Failure is not something we talk a lot about. We don’t celebrate our failures; we might even hide them. And when we see successful people, their failures are not usually part of the picture. But they are there and they shape us and what we do.
During my eight-month sabbatical, remote summer teaching, and an extended vacation, I experienced many failures, especially in the fitness world. My “Yoga Outside the Box” series in McCall, Idaho had decent attendance for the first class, and then the second two classes failed to attract anyone. While there are many reasons why attendance can be so dismal, it is difficult not to take such a failure to heart. I had put hours into designing this series and was excited to share it with my new yoga community. But I had not been able to establish a yoga community and this failure led me to re-think my future yoga directions.
I also attempted to schedule a Girls on Fire mind/body dance fitness class at Washington State University’s Student Recreation Center—something I have wanted to do since I stopped teaching classes there when I finished my PhD. My initial contact was answered immediately, but after two phone calls and multiple emails, we failed to set a date in time to promote the class and make the kinds of connections I wanted to make and things fell apart. After this failure, I felt ready to give up on this thing I have such a passion for, this thing that is quirky (and thus intimidating) in a fitness world where the box has a strong hold.
And bad timing caused me to be unable to schedule a guest class at the Jazzercise studio in El Cajon where I took classes, recovered from injuries, and re-grew my commitment to fitness. After six weeks of taking Jazzercise classes, I knew the women in this space would be willing to try this Girls on Fire thing. They danced so freely. I rethought my Girls on Fire Class Format as well as other directions and developments for this work and I have an invitation to teach a class next time I am in town.
All of these failures have led to several possible opportunities for success:
I now have two versions of my Girls on Fire class: yoga-centered with a splash of dance and fitness dance with a splash of yoga. Both versions have developed new aspects of the critical art of mind/body fitness.
I developed new directions for my yoga teaching and new fusions of yoga and dance. Because I also completed my 200 hours of training for my RYT certification, I feel more prepared to explore and develop this aspect of my critical and creative work.
My ego is slightly bruised and I feel more humble as I return to my home ground before I embark into more new territory.
Returning to my home crowd at the Bangor YMCA is both exciting and scary. I have not taught this thing I have been working on and it is a bit different than what they are used to. I have developed the story-telling aspect of my mind/body fitness dance and infused dance with yoga. It can be just a dance fitness class as much as a moving mind/body experience. Will they like it or will it be too far outside the box?
What is scarier, perhaps, is that in less than a week I am leaving for Denmark and I am taking this work with me. I will be teaching a graduate-level Girls on Fire: YA Dystopia and American Futures class (and a Hip-Hop America class as well as team teaching a theory and methods course), and if the students are open to the idea, I intend to offer this Girls on Fire mind/body fitness dance as an example of ideas from class in action. My American students are sometimes willing, I wonder if students in Denmark will be open to this artistic/critical interpretation.
Since I am an optimist, and internally driven, I rarely pause to think about the many failures that have gotten me where I am today. I’m more likely to imbue my successes with doubt. But my sabbatical forced me to have time and experiences that were outside my comfort zone and to reflect upon what I learned and where I want to go. My Girls on Fire work reminds me that failure is not an option; when we are passionate about something and willing to do the work, we find success even in failure because we were brave enough to try.