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Falling Well: The Lifecycle of a Leaf


Autumn is a second Spring where every leaf is a flower.
-Albert Camus, Author, Absurdist & Nobel Prize winner

I love failure. To be fair, it’s been life-long acquired taste. To be even fairer, it is best tasted in small, momentary doses, not long banquets.

There is a moment in failure when it has more power than success will ever have; that moment when the brain, heart, or the very soul says “Wait, I know how I can use this!” I’ve seen the look bloom on peoples’ faces. It’s profound.

I’ve often marveled at the strength, or detachment, of those who move to a non-seasonal home. I need the seasons; I value their forced change of perspective. Autumn is one of my favorite seasons because of its stillness, beauty and seeming reverence both for the Summer which came before and the Winter ahead.

It is from this perspective that we embark on the journey of a leaf; how to fall with grace, gather our lessons well, and bloom anew in the Spring.


Summertime: Livin’ is Easy


Uh, everything’s under control. Situation normal…everything’s perfectly all right…How are you?
-Han Solo, Star Wars


Tall Green TreeTo learn from a leaf one must think like a leaf and that is in the framework of sustaining, storing and shedding. A leaf goes through some or each of those states each season. Falling well in the Autumns of our failure begins in the Summers of our successes.

Sustaining: This one is more difficult that we may imagine. Even the well-used phrase “riding the wave of success” indicates that as a culture, we see success as only temporary. This is a healthy mindset that often becomes tarnished by automatic negative thinking and over-focus on the failures. Sustaining ourselves during successful times involves a balance of fully relishing the sweet fruit of our effort with the reality that struggles will come. Our best asset in this season is a level head and an open heart.

Storing: Store that praise! Store those positive affirmations—especially the ones which we tell ourselves. A journal is can be key in these times, but also a positive identity scrap-book, a magazine clipping collage or a Pintrest collection would be just as good. The best tool to hold on to our triumph need only be the one which will motivate us to use it in all seasons.

Shedding: Shed big-headed ego and false modesty. I’ve had to learn that others are more contented by a simple, heartfelt “thank you” than a constant denial of their praise—though that is my default setting. Humility is often more shown in a “thank you” than in a “it was nothing” because you are showing regard for the other person’s estimation of us or our actions, not engaging in well-meaning dismissal.


Autumn: Uh-oh


I’m a leaf on the wind; watch me soar.
-Hobart “Wash” Washburn, Serenity

There’s that sick moment of icy dread. Oh crap. Whatever it we’ve been steering clear of just landed on the hood of our life. The desire to run, hide, become senselessly angry or detached is all normal. Failure is normal. The fear of failure is normal. Just typing these words has me wanting to throw salt over my shoulder or give my computer monitor the ju-ju eyeball for fear of a jinx. My love of failure does not extend to the first aching realization of failure. That simply sucks. It’s the process which brings the love.

Sustaining: What?! Sustaining failure?! Yes. Think of it like moving to the edge of muscle pain in yoga. Breathe through it and stay present—the pain has something to teach us. We grow with a measure of healthy pain. Sustenance is again about balance, but this time is the balance of our own desire to or avoidance of self-recrimination. The best way to achieve this is to become immediately accountable to whoever we’ve wronged and/or to our superior. Not only will we find aid in our recriminatory duty but we will have objective help in determining the level of appropriate self-flagellation—which can be a challenge in moments of guilt.

Storing: Store a bit of that pain so that we can remember it when we succeed. Not in the memory of failure; in the sweetness of triumph—“I came from that feeling all the way to this one!” We also store the process we took right after we failed—did it show character? Determination? What would we change? The Monday Morning quarterbacking of our failure is inevitable, but playing the replay of how we handled that failure may show us more of who we are; and reveal something precious.

Shedding: We must shed anything that re-enforces self pity. Nope, there’s no long soliloquy here.


Winter: Stick a Fork In Me

Randy lay there like a slug. It was his only defense.
-Ralphie, A Christmas Story


winterWe want to give up after a failure as sure as the seasons, and as naturally. We’ve gotten exhausted physiologically, emotionally and mentally; hopefully spending our reserves at rallying some stop-gap to our failure or making amends. Sometimes, we expend all our energy at just getting through the experience. Then comes the wintery slog of rebuilding.

Sustaining: Think like a bear in hibernation; sustain our bodies. In winter we think “sustenance” the noun, and that is true in Winter; Failure’s pause. Stay fed, rested and exercised. Too much booze won’t help. Starving or over-eating won’t fix things. A day or two off may actually help, but a week of couch-riding and Reality TV helps no one ever. The mind and heart also need sustenance. Seeking a good, light book, movies with friends, anything that restores and refreshes the mind and heart will aid us in sustenance.

Storing: Store all that energy, restorative emotion and physical rest from stoppage of motion. We’re gonna need it.

Shedding: Shed the recrimination of Fall. We’re past it, it’s usefulness has waned. Letting it go is akin to letting a seed rest in the soil. We needed the jab of recrimination to make this furrow in the Earth from which to bloom. If we keep jabbing, keep digging, all we do is turn a nice seed-bed into a pit too deep for light, warmth or growth.


Spring: Do I have To?

If I get up I might fall back down again
So let’s get up come on
If I get up I might fall back down again
We get up anyway
If I get up I might fall back down again
So let’s get up come on
If I get up I might fall back down again
And I might fall back down again
-Superchick, “Get Up”

And then…poof. We rise.

springFor me there’s always a moment of surprise in Spring; a “Hey, we made it!” Yes, it’s usually followed by a smiling “Duh!” Even in our failure, the snows recede, the sun returns and we burst forth. This is made all the more resounding if we’ve Wintered well. Somewhere during that Winter season, life returned to normal, we were offered new challenges; we met them, and have now found ourselves cresting toward a new success.

Sustaining: Sustain the momentum. Like a kid on a bicycle without training wheels for the first time, we need to keep pedaling and not let the shock of success make us stumble.

Storing: Store the feeling of the rise, notice it as it happens because that’s hard to do, but quite valuable. We could make a game of it. “If this was as close to success as I got, would it be enough?” Just store the answer. This is also where we can begin storing and planning for next Winter.

Shedding: Shed unhealthy fear. Healthy fear keeps us watchful, unhealthy fear keeps us paralyzed or paranoid. Shed reminders of past failures—sometimes they will burst like rot in Spring, though they became dormant in the Winter.


Obvious Except From Within

We’ll just jump and see, even if it’s the 20th time
we’ll just jump and see if we can fly…
-Superchick, “Get Up”

Does a leaf know in Fall that Spring and Summer will come again? Of course not, it’s simply being leafy. The fact that we forget when we fail that we will also be given the opportunity to rise again, is just as ludicrous a notion as a self-aware leaf, yet we fall pray to it all the time.

We are reminded of it all the time, as well, and I think that’s for our benefit. Remember Camus’s words this Autumn, if in failure or in life; Fall can be a “second Spring where every leaf is a flower,” it just takes a change in perspective to open ourselves and soak it in.

Try it. Be leafy.


***And THE WINNER of This Season’s Gift Card is: Sandy Sue!

Sandy, you win a $10 gift card email good for use at Old Navy, the Gap or Piperlime.com! Congratulations and thanks for subscribing! Just send me an email to let me know you’ll be expecting it, and I’ll forward it along. Best of luck in the Spring, everyone!

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