As a recovering perfection (raise your hand if you can relate?), it’s taken me a long, long time to accept the idea that it’s okay to fail. That it’s okay to fail a lot. It happens, it’s life, it’s normal, to be expected. Try as I might, mistakes aren’t preventable, and that’s fine. You can learn a whole lot from what doesn’t work. I learn a lot from what doesn’t work, every single day. From the big stuff (where we live) to the small (like I pay attention to what you all love and what you don’t in kindle deals every single day).
For the non-earth-shaking stuff, failure is just data: in any situation, what worked, and what didn’t, and why? This intentional anti-perfectionist stance—that screwing up can be valuable—has been really freeing, and really productive. (And also, as a recovering perfectionist, good for the soul.)
And so I was surprised to hear a variation on this theme echoed in a podcast I was listening to this week. It was Rob Bell’s show (not a regular listen for me, but I usually enjoy the ones I hear). He interviewed Susan David on “emotional agility,” a phrase that got my attention, and which basically means this: emotions are data.
Whether they’re positive or negative or ambivalent or even valid, they’re telling us something. They’re data points. She says, “emotions are just emotions. They can be useful, they are data, but they are not facts.”
Every emotion we have is telling us something. What is it telling us? (If you can answer that question honestly without beating yourself up, you’re on the path to emotional agility.)
My family moved this week. 2 adults + 4 kids = a lot of big feelings. (I’m not just talking about the kids. #infp) Mostly good ones, but moving is a change, and change is stressful—even when it’s a happy change.
And so we’ve been talking about emotional agility a lot around here this week (although don’t worry, that’s not the phrase I use with my 1st grader). You’re feeling sad? That’s normal. Why? (Because we have so many happy memories in the old place and that is a good thing.) You’re excited? I’m so glad. About what? You’re feeling everything all at once? That’s moving. Let’s talk about it.
Emotions are data, and, in the emotionally agile, those data points help you move forward. David quotes Victor Frankl to illuminate this: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that … In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
These emotional data points don’t determine your response, not at all. As the stimulus, they inform it. They help you figure out how you’re feeling, even if you’re feeling it deep down. And then you decide your response (although, failure being a normal part of life and all, this process won’t always go smoothly).
If this sounds interesting, I highly recommend checking out the whole episode here.
If you want to read more (and I hope you do), check out David’s book: Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life. You can bank on reading more Victor Frankl being a solid life choice, and if you’re the spiritual sort, her explanation of how emotions relate to our actions is very Dallas Willard.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about emotional agility, Victor Frankl, and big feelings (moving- or otherwise-induced) in comments. And if you’ve listened to any great podcast episodes lately, share those in comments as well?)