Failure IS An Option
It was 1986 - My dad and I were watching the launch of Space Shuttle Challenger from the basement of our Brooklyn home. Seventy-three seconds into its flight, Challenger exploded, killing her seven crew members- including Christa McAuliffe – the first teacher in space. At just six-years-old, I had no idea I was watching a tragedy in the making - I just remember my dad falling silent and lowering his head. Twenty-five years later, in 2011, I shared the same sentiment when we lost Columbia and her seven crew members on reentry after a successful 16-day mission.
Needless to say, when NASA and SpaceX launched its first manned, privatized flight back into space from American soil on Saturday, May 30, 2020, I found myself both excited…and terrified. Imagine what the NASA and SpaceX teams were feeling?!
Robert F. Kennedy once said: Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.
And man did NASA and SpaceX dare to fail. The spectacular success we watched on that faithful Saturday that thrust Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley into low-earth orbit was first plagued by failure. In fact, failure was so customary that SpaceX released a video entitled, “How NOT to Land an Orbital Rocket Booster.” Two minutes and nine seconds of monstrous, epic disasters that resulted in massive explosions and massive fireballs. Causes included the orbital rocket booster suffering from engine sensor failures, sticky throttle valves, radar glitches, running out of liquid oxygen, hydraulic fluid and propellant, and my personal favorite, “#$@&*?!^*&^^$!”
The notion of failure is quite interesting. After all, as humans, we learn to fear failure – but fear of failure is not an inherent concept. I see this in my soon-to-be-two-year old baby niece. She’s fearless. She wanted to skip crawling altogether, and so, she would get herself up to stand…take half a step, fall down and get back up- doing it all over again…until she finally began walking early (yep, I’m a proud, totally unbiased Aunt). When she wants to learn to color or count or buckle or button something she practices over and over again until she finally does it. She doesn’t care how many failed attempts she has under her belt – instead, she uses those failures as the avenue to success.
So, what does any of this have to do with chronic pain and illness?
Well, as chronic pain and illness sufferers, we know what failure looks like: failed surgeries, medications, treatment plans, support systems, government policies, insurance coverage – I can keep going, but I’m sure you get the idea.
Here’s the problem. Risk, failure, and reward are not made equal when life and health are at play. I remember hearing a story that while NASA and SpaceX were designing the newly named Endeavour, the teams frequently referred to Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley as “the two fathers.” Suddenly, unmanned rockets exploding and millions of dollars lost doesn’t seem so dismaying when contrasted to the potential loss of life. In other words, loss of life (literally or figuratively) carries much higher highs and much lower lows when risk fails, and success seems absolutely, unattainably impossible.
As chronic pain and illness sufferers, we take risks in the form of choosing physicians, treatment protocols, and enduring surgeries. The reward is health…but failure…failure is continued illness. Like I said, much higher highs and much lower lows.
When I was first diagnosed with deep infiltrating endometriosis, I was ready, willing, and able to do whatever it would take to feel better. After all, I was just twenty-eight years old and had plans for a big life. I was sure that I could live the life I was dreaming of and working towards in a broken body – it was merely a small detour. If a physician told me to try it – I did. Whatever needed to be done.
As the years (and treatments) passed with little pain relief, it was becoming harder to view my illness as a “small detour” – it began to feel more and more like a barricade. A very large barricade. So, my physicians and I began trying more radical options like off-label use of medication. The side effects were soul-sucking. So soul-sucking that I developed Stevens-Johnson syndrome (SJS) - a rare and life-threatening reaction to one of the medications. Lucky for me, SJS came with a complimentary PICC line. (Sarcasm, anyone?)
And then, one day, the impasse - one of my surgeons suggested that because I had such an aggressive form of the disease, I’d need to have surgery every 1-2 years to excise the endometriosis. In seven years, I had a handful of surgeries under my belt and a bunch of chronic pain. Finally, in 2015, after an excruciating recovery, I vowed never to seek out the “risk” of surgery for the “success” of health again. So much for my goals, hopes, and dreams – I had finally succumbed to the notion that my new mission in life was answering to the demands of my very broken body.
Is it any wonder why chronic pain and illness sufferers seem to have an extra healthy dose of fear, doubt, and failure? You see, eventually, in an effort to protect ourselves, we begin to accept status quo. We no longer view doubt as a human emotion to push through and failure as an avenue to success – we view it as a way of life.
Accepting defeat means that we stop setting goals. We stop dreaming. Achieving. We become stagnant. Complacent. We may begin to feel like it’s best to lead small lives. Like it’s best for us to fade into the background so not to “burden” our family and friends any more than we already have. Accepting failure means that we lose sight of our hopes and dreams.
And the problem with that is the world loses our talents, our gifts, our stories, and our input –we lose our birthright to leave a legacy, to leave our contribution, to leave our mark on this world – and that is the evilest motive chronic pain and illness has.
So, what do we do? Allow pain and illness to steal our desires, goals, and aspirations? We’re not kids anymore dreaming about what we’ll become when we grow up. Life has chosen our path for us. We just need to accept it. Manage to get through each painful, depressing day, right? Wrong, wrong, wrong…(wrong). Lol.
Here are a few of my most favorite tips and tricks to take your life’s purpose back from chronic pain and illness:
1. Remember your dreams.
As kids, we all had big dreams. We thought we could become whatever we wanted. Sadly though, we dismiss these dreams once we begin to understand the way of the world, but did you know we were onto something? Often our childhood dreams give us an early look into our personalities and interests.
Sit down and make a list of everything you once had a passion for – leave reality out of it. Just think of things that you enjoy, or once enjoyed – that you wanted to pursue or never saw through. Maybe there’s something you never really allowed yourself to dream of – or never realized could be a “thing.”
Take some time to think about this list. Ask your loved ones what they think. The only thing you’re not allowed to do…is write down those trades, skills or talents you hate. Life is way too short (especially as a chronic pain and illness sufferer) to start pursuing (or go back to pursing) things you don’t like!
2. Pare it down.
Once you have a lengthy list, pare it down to only those things that truly excite you. Again, leave reality out of it. Doesn’t matter. You can always cross things off you don’t think are good ideas. Ultimately, the idea here is not to limit yourself or your imagination.
3. Pick one small scary thing (related to your list or not)…and do it!
Most of the scariest things I’ve ever done in my life have been intertwined with establishing and running Kairos Chronic Pain Coaching – and I imagine it will always be this way. So, it’s no surprise that my example of “one small scary thing” has to do with this business.
In 2018, I was weeks away from our official launch. Setting up the company’s social media accounts was the last thing I needed to do. Easy right? Wellllllll…I was always one of those people that didn’t have ANY social media. Seriously. No Facebook, or Twitter, or Instagram or… well, okay, I had LinkedIn, considering I was a businesswoman for fifteen years but other than that…nothing. I just never liked it. I was of the mind that if you were in my life, you were in my life for a reason, and if you weren’t in my life, you weren’t in my life for a reason. Most importantly, the thought of having my life on display for all to see seemed…like an invasion of privacy. Radical, eh?
I remember the first day I finally posted to all of the company’s newly developed social media channels – I mean, we’re not talking a bungee jump dose of fear here, but it was big enough to slightly fray my nerves but small enough in that it was completely “doable.”
Today, though I still don’t like social media, I have learned to respect the fact that it gives me a platform to share some of my biggest struggles for others to learn from.
So how did my perspective change? I took the irrational fear and doubt out of it – I quickly realized that I’m able to control what information I choose to share. Remember that big steps are just a collection of small, seemingly, insignificant steps.
4. Then…keep doing scary things!
The point of this exercise and the one above is to start racking up easy and consistent successes, so you become familiar with the notion that risk can equate to reward and not that risk always equates to failure. You’ll know you’re on the right track when it takes bigger things to scare you!
There’s a saying derived from the Bible, which simply states: “new level, new devil.” The idea is that with each lesson learned – with each grade we complete in the University of Life, a new rigorous curriculum is set in motion for the upcoming class–we earn a brand-new set of challenges – to fear…and overcome.
5. Go back to your list and choose what rests between the possible and improbable space.
Okay, here’s where you can add back a little realism to your list. Throughout your life you’ve probably had varying, diametric dreams. For me, some of my top favs were wanting to become a surgeon, a fighter pilot (seriously), a professional figure skater, and a mother – eh, throw in princess for good measure. But I also had “backup” dreams like teaching, writing, and business – not nearly as thrilling, but rewarding, nevertheless.
You see, chronic pain and illness have stripped me of many dreams, but it can’t take every interest, passion, purpose, and hobby of mine. Between the space of possible and improbable lies your purpose of becoming something bigger than yourself.
Choose something that is a hard reach but not completely unattainable. Take your limitations into account without limiting yourself completely. Most importantly, whatever you choose, don’t choose it for monetary success or notoriety – choose it because you’d be denying your soul if you didn’t do it. Choose it because it scares you. Choose it because leaving this Life without doing it would be your greatest failure.
I started Kairos Chronic Pain Coaching because I needed to make my pain and illness count for something in this world. That’s it. The company was founded on that ethos and that ethos alone. It sounds enormously cliché, but if I’ve helped one person with chronic pain and illness, I’ve succeeded and made all of the pain, illness, and loss mean something.
Life is full of frightening, overwhelming, what-in-the-literal-f*ck-moments. Chronic pain and illness or not; we all have demons to defy and defeat. Don’t let chronic pain and illness convince you that your contribution isn’t needed in this world. Don’t fade into the background. Don’t deny the world of your gifs, talents, and passions. If you can’t be a new version of your old self, be a new version of your new self. Our lights are just as bright as anyone else’s. The only thing you have to do is believe it.
In one of our recent blogs, I quoted Ville Valo – the Finnish frontman and singer/songwriter from one of my all-time favorite bands, named HIM. So, it only seemed appropriate to send this blog off with befitting song lyrics written by Ville Valo for a favored song of mine, called, “Pretending.” The befitting lyrics? “When doubts arise, the game begins.”
Make it your mission to play the game –because the only way you’ll fail greatly, is if you let doubt talk you out of achieving greatly.
Christina H Chororos, a decade-long deep infiltrating endometriosis (DIE) sufferer, founded Kairos
Chronic Pain Coaching in the fall of 2018 and is a chronic pain and illness educator, speaker, and writer.
Christina graduated with honors from Lynchburg University with a Bachelor of Science in Human Development and Education in 2002. Additionally, she obtained an Integrative Wellness Life Coaching Certification from the Integrative Wellness Academy in the fall of 2017, and a Graduate Certificate in Pain Management from the University of Connecticut (UCONN) in the spring of 2020.
Christina is a regular contributor to iPain Living Magazine, a quarterly magazine published by the International Pain Foundation.