You Can Never Do Anything ‘Again’

UPDATED: October 23, 2015
PUBLISHED: August 17, 2015

There is a certain membrane of protection afforded by ignorance. We are trained from early on to reference pain gained through life experience as a vault of wisdom, always available to inform future decisions. But when “wisdom” comes from pain, sometimes, as a point of reference, it costs more than it’s worth. What if we attempted every challenge with the same joyful expectation that we did when we didn’t have a memory of failure?

These past several days I have been having some difficult discussions with my son about his lifelong struggle to lose a significant amount of weight. It’s bigger than a few pounds and he’s lost it all before. The idea of doing it “again” brings tears to his eyes, a lump in the middle of his sentences and a certain kind of emotional paralysis. In the moments of his deepest sense of futility, I always want to wrap him in the comfort of a mother’s love, in words that soothe every hurting thing away.

I am not known for a saccharin delivery. Instead, I am known more as an unbuffered messenger of truth. Sometimes my attempt at comfort can feel more like an affront. But the truth feels safest to me and it’s all I know, so I offered him what I know: You can never do anything “again.” Does that soften the blow? I don’t think it does. But it provides a place to start without an anchor of failure.

When my son was losing his weight, I was his trainer. As an athlete, my training philosophy always rested on the notion that the body as a physical thing is in a constant and fluid state of transition. Cells are dying off every second, which means that the opportunity to transform is available every second. You are never stuck with a body you don’t like, because as a form, it is inherently temporary.

As with the physical body, there are no stable conditions in this whole life. Everything should, must, does, change. If you are going down what appears to be a repeated failed path, you are probably bringing the pain of the perceived failure with you, and it’s likely ahead of you, too, leading the way.

Do you think I am minimizing the loss of whatever it is? I have had my own profound losses, and I had to get to this state of awareness the hard way. But without question, every seemingly devastating loss in my life has introduced a new and more epic period of great joy, joy that I could have never imagined in the former existence. Whenever you think you are starting over, imagine you are just simply starting. The only way to “re” build a house, “re” store a financial ruin, “re” lose the weight, “re” take the exam, is to simply eliminate the “re” and just do the thing as it is now.

A life challenge “re-presented” is the only way available on the spiritual plain to allow you to choose the outcome again. Not in the brow beating bang-your-head-against-the-wall-till-you-get-it-right sense. No. I mean to really have a new experience at what seems like an old endeavor, you must submit to it as the thing it is now with all the opportunity that any first effort brings, but maybe with some more knowledge. That means that even if some of the rehearsed motions look similar, they can never be the same, because you are not and the space you occupy in the world is not. Thankfully, and if you paid attention to the pain of whatever it was, you have evolved and you can write a new ending—unless you haven’t. And then I would urge you to get about doing that before you play out the steps to the old experience over and over.

So when I tell my son he is not “losing his weight again,” I am not pouring syrup over the obvious difficulty. I am saying this is not that time again, truly. You can do this anew and have it go differently. In fact, to have it go differently you must do it anew.

Imagine that a former “failed” attempt will in no way subtract from the success of a renewed effort, because it just won’t. In fact, nothing brings a success more deep joy than the layers of experiences that preceded it. Though they are not the “same” experiences, they are inextricable to one another—the “failing” gives substance to the “succeeding.” As experiences, they were necessary to this person taking on the challenge today, but they are not this person taking on the challenge today. They inform who you are becoming, and you are always doing that. Whereas, whoever you were in the past “failure” no longer exists, literally.

You can and must be someone else in this process, whatever it is. No, you cannot lose “that weight,” take “that exam,” start “that business” or earn “that fortune” again. Whatever you think you lost, imagine yourself joyfully undertaking this next endeavor with the innocence of your first attempt and simply write the script from the perspective of where you are now. The person showing up now has the benefit of whatever you thought you would have done differently then—if you only knew better. And now you do.

Uncloaked by the reference of the former failed attempt, but informed by the person you have become up to this moment, you can do it anew, but you cannot do it again.

Check out five ways to reframe failure—and to use it to your advantage.

Debbie Sanders is a lawyer and the owner of Bar-None Prep where she teaches a bar exam preparation method aimed at creating a "methodical and predictable” approach to the exam while placing an emphasis on the spirit and well-being of the person taking the exam. Debbie is also an author, writing mostly about purpose and overcoming adversity, and in addition to her essays, she is currently writing a book entitled The Spiritual Path to Passing the Bar based on her experiences teaching bar exam students for more than 15 years.