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Fail, and Experience the Journey.


 This spring, I received some of the best words of proclamation: "You will fail."  I know, they don’t sound like the comforting words you want to find inside a fortune cookie but hear me out.  Like  many others this year, I found the recent months filled with many changes. Unsettling news stories, loved ones losing their jobs, and social distancing left my brain scrambling to process all of this new information and trying to make sense of it. Interestingly,  I began to  noticed that some struggled with the uncertainty of what tomorrow might bring; finding this time to be stressful, lonely and unpredictable. Others seem to come to life. I  watched them flourish, as they ended stressful commutes, long graveyard shifts and dropping babies off at daycare. They instead, began going for walks, playing with their children and eating dinner as a family.  I struggled to keep  my daily routine as normal as possible, so as I  began to sort out information in my head, I also began to sort out seeds, bags of  potting soil and garden beds. 

One day, I gave a friend some tomato plants that I had recently started. She, in return surprised me with a beautiful loaf of sourdough bread and some really great, sourdough starter. My husband and I ate soup and fresh buttered bread for dinner that night. (The kind of meal where butter drips down your chin and you lick your fingers.) I was hooked! I had to learn more about how to maintain my starter and how to make delicious, home-made, sourdough bread. I had been thinking about it for years, wanting to try, but oh, it looked so complicated. I chickened out every time. 

Like a lot of us, I was told at a very young age to win the race, to ace the test, to be the best. I was never told that is was okay to come in second, to get a B, or to just be okay with who I was, because, of course, I could always be better.  In a sense, I was never told that it was okay to fail. Was it just assumed that I might make failure my life's ambition if I didn’t get the A? Did I set the bar too low if I was ok with second best? Fail became the four-letter F-word never to be uttered from my lips with out being linked to embarrassment and shame. It was to be hidden away at all cost, heavily guarded and never spoken of, like the D in my 9th grade algebra class. Some things in my young life came easily; music, spelling, binge-eating Twinkies, other things were unbearably hard; math, science, and talking to people. I quickly learned that if something came easily to me I would continue on. If something was hard, and I didn’t immediately succeed, I would abruptly stop, and  never try again, saving us all the embarrassment of having to admit failure. So what happened? I became the fat girl, who played the guitar all by herself but grew up to be a really good speller. Really.

Life- long habits are so hard to break, and are often so deeply woven into the person we became that we don't even recognize them as habits. I was on a quest to learn how to make great sourdough bread while this fear of failure defeated me at every turn. It had become a habit to quit before I ever realized it. Every attempt at looking at a recipe or blog post  about sourdough was deflected by the iron shield of fear.  “ Nope! Too hard.” Screamed the old habit. “ Too complicated! Too many steps!” it bellowed. “ Trust me, don’t even try it.” whispered the old, familiar voice in my head. Until one day, one post. One post didn’t begin like all of the others; with the complicated  twelve step process. Instead it  began like this. “ Making sourdough bread is hard. You will fail. PLAN to fail. Failure is part of the process. Every time you fail you will learn something from it. THEN you will succeed. Be patient. This should have scared me away, except it was the first time someone had given me permission to fail. IT IS OK TO FAIL. These five words washed over me like a summer storm showering hope on a dry, thirsty garden. I soaked in the words as they nourished my roots and rejuvenated  my soul . This was the most freeing sentence I have ever read. Of course no one really likes to fail. No one enjoys feeling disappointed or disappointing others, but I had been living under the weight of the fear of failure and paralyzed by the thought that I might not be valued if my attempts weren’t met with excellence. 

I tried making my first loaf of sourdough the next day. Guess what? I failed. We ate it anyway. Cutting through the dense loaf was a struggle, it kind of hurt out teeth to chew it, but the flavor was good. I tried something different the next week. It failed too. This loaf resembled a flat bread more than an artisan bobble and didn’t taste as good as the first. I tried new things, tweaked others and tried some more. Fail, fail, fail... Until today. Today I adjusted, I weighed, I folded, I baked. I did.  I made a beautifully risen, perfectly colored, delightfully textured sourdough bread, and it tasted amazing. The best part wasn’t even the success. Giving myself permission to fail meant that I gave myself permission to experience the journey. My focus was no longer perfection at the end, although I hoped for it. I experienced the smell of the starter, I felt the warmth of the flour and water as I folded it all together. I relaxed as I waited for it to prove and noticed the tiny steam bubbles forming the texture of the crust. I did enjoy the fresh, warm bread when it was finished, but I wouldn’t have enjoyed it nearly as much has I not experienced the whole process. Now, get out there and fail.


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