I like to think I'm organized. I dislike clutter, twitch when objects are aren't evenly aligned, and adhere to the credo a place for everything and everything in its place. But then there's my keys. Or, more aptly given my current situation, there's not my keys, because I've misplaced them.
Keys are my organizational nemesis. And this particular missing set not only contains the key to my office on campus, but also is attached to a flash drive that contains all of my documents, handouts, lessons, spreadsheets, and PowerPoint presentations for the classes that I teach.
Even though I have this content backed up elsewhere, I hate the fact that it's out there, wherever "there" is. I'd be more comfortable knowing that the set was at the bottom of a dumpster, never to be seen again, rather than speculating that it's been plucked by someone who plans to use my work materials for nefarious purposes.
Not that there are many nefarious purposes for lecture notes on rhetoric and public speaking, of course, but you catch my drift.
The evening I first realized that the keys were missing, I dragged my children to campus to retrace my steps and scour the various classrooms where I teach. I'll spare you the extended details -- the illegal parking spot and subsequent encounter with a campus parking officer; the desperate, dashing trips to two different restrooms because my three-year-old had downed an entire bottle of Gatorade before getting in the car; the unsure footing on slippery sidewalks as I promised the girls that the next building was just a little farther; and the frustrating absence of keys in each classroom despite my belief that they'd eventually materialize if I simply searched long and hard enough.
Needing comfort at the end of our unsuccessful venture, I drove to a local dairy where I treated the girls to ice cream and drowned my sorrows with a milkshake. (Milkshakes always make bad situations a little better.)
It was only keys, I knew, but my irritation, directed solely at my own absentmindedness, rooted itself deeply. The thread of frustration wove an intricate web, tangling and snaring my thoughts. How disorganized, scatterbrained, thoughtless, and irresponsible I was!
Do you ever think like this? Do small mistakes ever escalate in your mind? Does one short-tempered afternoon convince you that you've irrevocably failed as a mother and screwed up your kids? Does one awkward encounter with an acquaintance make you question your basic social skills and capacity for intelligent dialogue? Do you ever leave a failed situation feeling like it's not just the situation -- but you -- that's the failure?
I've answered yes to all of these questions before. Perhaps you can relate. We've all messed up. We've all overthought those mess-ups.
Over the past year, I've grown more self-aware about my thinking toward failure. As a result, I've learned to take my thoughts captive more quickly so I can pick through what's true (yes, I lost my keys) and discard what's false (no, I'm not an irresponsible, incompetent bad human). I'm learning to redefine failure and view it more productively, debunking the default assumption that failure is inherently bad (it's not), or that it's final (it isn't).
Those lost keys? I'm not letting them define me today.
No, I choose to believe other things about myself -- those things which God says about me: that I'm loved, that I've forgiven, that I'm covered, that I'm made righteous -- instead of what that pesky little inner voice might protest.
P.S. I sense that this post isn't yet finished. For one, I'm still hoping against hope that I'll find those keys. That's optimism for you, my friends. Two, thoughts are still churning; there's more to be said about failure. What about you? Can you relate to the questions above?