Why Anyone Would Share Their Failures Online

A few weeks ago, I was interviewed by the thoughtful and accomplished percussionist Doug Perkins for his podcast, Five Days With Doug. We talked for almost two hours. I confessed to Doug that while I’m in a pretty good place right now, I’d spent a decent percentage of my late twenties struggling with depression, career confusion, self-doubt, burnout, and financial instability. (Doug referred to this as my “turning thirty freak-out,” which is definitely part of it.)

This week online,  I discussed my attempt to quit eating sugar.

This week online,  I discussed my attempt to quit eating sugar.

At some point, Doug said: “So, you’re pretty open about the fact that you’re searching, you’re seeking, you don’t have it all figured out. But you’re also saying to other people, I can help you with your career stuff.”

“It’s true,” I replied. “It might seem counter-intuitive. But I think there are some things that you can only help people through if you’ve been there.”

Everyone’s had that instrumental teacher who doesn’t quite know how to break things down, because they learned the technique so long ago that they’ve forgotten. Or perhaps the skill came relatively easily to them, and they can’t get inside the head of someone whose process is different. When it comes to working through life's thorniest problems, sometimes it's helpful to talk to someone who's very recently come through them. So I often choose to "out" myself, so that I can be "found" by friends, colleagues, and even near-strangers who may share my struggle and can benefit from what I've learned.

It's a tricky balance, this dance between private life and public statement. It's possible to share too much, to open a wound before you're truly ready, to expose yourself to criticism or public debate when what you really need is privacy, silence, and time. 

Still, the fact remains that this process of sharing is second nature to me. Recently, my friend Deidre was asking me about why I choose to write about my life and ideas online. Deidre, a more private person than me by nature, didn’t really understand sharing in the way that I do. “What do you get out of it?” she asked.

As I was talking to her, I realized is that I have a Circle of Life, which looks like this:

II:  Have an experience → Reflect on it → Gain insight → Share what I’ve learned  :II

Repeat ad nauseam. I'm calling it a Circle of Life because I swear, it just happens regardless of whether or not I plan it, or think it’s cool or strategic or useful. I can declare to myself,

No more blogging! I’m only going to be literary or

I’m going to go on meditation retreat for three months or

I’m going to take a damn orchestra audition. No really, I am.

Sooner or later, I will be back, pecking my most recent life experience out onto a keyboard, trying to make sense of it. Part of how I make sense of life is by sharing it.

The perils and triumphs of of online navel-gazing.

The perils and triumphs of of online navel-gazing.

And of course, the magical thing that happens once you’ve shared your own story is that you discover you’re not alone. People come out of the woodwork. They email you and share their experiences. They take you aside at parties and mention something they never otherwise would’ve mentioned. And suddenly you have a sense of tribe, a sense of shared experience, and the world is a less lonely place.

So a lot of what I choose to do -- writing, coaching, consulting -- falls under the “share what I’ve learned” piece. Not because it has some particular benefit, but simply because it's in my DNA, for better or for worse.

I’m super curious. Do you, my dear readers, also have a “circle of life” that you constantly find yourself engaged in?  A pattern, a process, a way of being in the world that’s deeply ingrained and unique to you? (Mine is pretty typical for an ENFJ, by the way, and I find it fascinating how different personalities approach and process the world.) Let me know in the comments.