“Expect excellence; accept failure.”
This is written across the whiteboard on the door of my office at Hugo House, a quote attributed to Albert Einstein. It’s been on the whiteboard for two months now. Occasionally, someone will leave me a message, draw a picture or write something in a slanted mess of handwriting that I can’t decipher, but no one has yet to write “BULLSHIT,” which is what I had hoped.
Albert Einstein never said, “Expect excellence; accept failure.” I did, but I attributed the quote to him in an effort to fool myself into believing that this simple directive came from someone beyond me, someone with far more knowledge and understanding of how the world works, someone who experimented, who tried and failed and tried and failed until he became, well, Albert Fucking Einstein. (Maybe you’ve heard of him…?)
I first wrote the quote on my whiteboard in early November, the week I turned 30, almost exactly a month before Sonny’s due date and towards the end of a year I can only describe as a wind tunnel, me, the airplane, maintaining as the propulsion of change–a promotion, a pregnancy, buying a house, losing a severe amount of weight, re-building a self, myself–wound around me.
With a month to go, getting below 200 lbs. by Dec. 6 was my goal, but I knew then I wouldn’t reach it. The quote was my way of preparing myself for the inevitable. I’d have to see it everyday, live with it, breathe its clinical scent of marker on whiteboard, the same way I’d have to see my own failure every time I looked in the mirror, stepped on the scale, every time I ate something, whether it was a protein bar or a bowl of Haagen Dazs. Putting Einstein’s name on the quote made accepting failure realer oddly, turning my words into someone else’s, into bulletin board material, motivation to strive without reaching one’s goals, to succeed in the face of failure, to accept defeat more like Ghandi than Iron Mike.
On the morning of December 6 when I weighed myself, I was 208 lbs., down more than 50 lbs. from where I was a year ago, giving me a total weight loss of 68 lbs., my second go-round at a “Biggest Loser”-level of extreme weight loss.
Eight years ago, I had the same exact goal, getting below 200 lbs., and I didn’t reach it either. I plateaued at 201 for a few months before my weight loss obsession reached bunny-boiling levels and I began doing crazy shit, like not eating anything that makes life worth living and smearing hemorrhoid cream somewhere other than a butthole. Then I hurt my back working-out, “taking it to the next level,” I told myself, and ballooned up 75 lbs, gaining back more than half of what I originally lost. The fear of failure didn’t motivate me; it destroyed me. Then, depression made me hate myself, looking in the mirror and knowing all my hard work had gone to waste. Just another fat fuck…again.
This is what failure looks like.
This time, accepting failure is different. I’m not angry at myself. I haven’t started doing crazy work-outs, shooting coconut water intravenously or sniffing chia seeds. Failure has become sort of like a frenemy, someone I know and don’t like–maybe he’s a douchbag, or a Red Sox fan or a Republican–but we’ve known each other for awhile so it seems like we should be friendly. I still won’t invite failure over for a barbecue and let him berate me with stories of my ineptitude. I’ll say hello before moving on to something better, a welcoming pat on the back, maybe a firm grasp of the shoulder, the way men do, but a hard one, so failure knows I’m stronger than before, that I won’t put up with his bullshit. Not today. Not anymore.
When I saw 208, I didn’t see the 9 pounds I should have lost. I saw the 54 I did lose. I also saw the life ahead of me, Jaime, Sonny, the little world I’ve carved out for myself in Seattle, everything I’m thankful for–success, health and the two fireplaces in the new house. (That’s my “Juicy” moment. Biggie had Moet and Alize; I have two fireplaces.) I’m… happy, content with the man I am, one at peace with his imperfections, which makes failure easier to cope with and finding the motivation to continue on towards excellence easier, too.
Something Albert Einstein did say, “There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle.” Sometimes it’s hard to have that kind of faith, especially if, like me, you don’t believe in a higher power (I suppose football doesn’t count.), but now even on my worst days, each morning feels like a small miracle and each night a victory, no matter what the scales reads.