How Failure Taught me the Beauty in Letting Go

Failure is defined as:

  • Lack of success
  • An unsuccessful person or thing
  • The action or state of not functioning

When I was 20, I returned to New York after having spent a semester studying abroad in Cluj-Napoca, Romania. I felt light and inspired, so inspired that by the time that I turned 21 (that same month), I had already decided that I would go back to Europe, someway, somehow. That year, I finished my Bachelor’s in Political Science at SUNY Buffalo State and had meticulously crafted a plan that would get me back to Europe. First, I decided on Germany because, after all, they were known as the leader of the EU. Second, I did my research. I searched for Masters programs in the fields related to Political Science in Germany that were taught in English. I read as much as I could about these programs, their professors, the cities in which they were located in, everything I could find. Third, I took as much German as possible, watched as many German films as I could, and listened to as much catchy German music as I could find, and finally, I prepared my graduate school applications and applied to as many programs as I could keep track of.

I graduated from SUNY Buffalo State that year and yet, much of the excitement was overshadowed by the fact that my mind was already in Germany. I was a woman on a mission. Right after I turned 22, I boarded a plane to Germany. I had goals for myself and was confident that by the time I turned 25, I would:

  • have a Master’s degree,
  • be fluent in German,
  • be working in Brussels in some type of job relating to the European Union (EU),
  • and that I would consider myself a European.

74I was simply put naive and even arrogant. I was a person who thought graduating with a high GPA and some scholarships meant that I could change the world.

After arriving in Germany, I slowly came to the realization that I was not in the right place. My master’s program wasn’t what I expected and I felt sort of alienated in my new city. Nothing was bad but I just knew that it wasn’t for me. However, instead of listening to my own warning, I carried on and pushed myself because I was not a quitter. I let my pride get the best of me and in doing so I became my own worst enemy.

Then, just before my last semester, the master’s thesis semester, I fell in love with a Frenchman and moved to France. Yes it is cliché, yes it was impulsive, and yes I got my fair share of criticism for it, but I was finally happy again and that was all that mattered.

Slowly, and by then at the age of 23, I was able to let go of goals that no longer were relevant. I transitioned into a more beautiful life in France. I wrote my Master thesis from cafés overlooking the ocean, I upgraded my daily habits by emphasizing my health and well-being more, and I made a PACS (a civil union) in France with my now fiancé. I didn’t want to become fluent in German anymore, I wanted to learn French. I no longer wanted to work for the EU in some capacity; rather, I wanted to work in France and lastly, I  didn’t want to become a ‘European’, I wanted to become ‘French’.

I readjusted. By the time I turn 25 I will:  

  • have a master’s degree,
  • speak French fluently,
  • and work in France.

My now fiancé and I applied for the carte de séjour (the French residency permit), that I was supposedly entitled to because of our PACS, with the help of his family. I finished my Master thesis and received my Master’s degree just as my fiancé finished his degree. Then we moved to Bordeaux, the wine and cultural capital of France, and I took independent French courses full-time as I waited for my carte de séjour.

Then, the unthinkable happened, parts of my file with the immigration office were lost and we received mixed information everywhere. For every bureaucrat who told me I would have my visa very soon, no problem, there was someone else who was confused by the fact that I was a student in Germany before and that I had actually met my fiancé years ago in Romania – although, we didn’t start dating then. What had seemed as a simple case  turned into a mystery file that was never accepted nor denied.

I had spent a year training for a language to work in a country that had not given me, nor rejected me, from the right to live and work there. I had failed, again. I knew I did not belong in Germany but I really thought I could belong in France, and now I was so discouraged that I didn’t even want that.

I was so distraught by my own sense of failure that I failed to see the beauty in my life. I failed to see that year of taking French and not being able to work had: matured me, humbled me, and brought me closer to my own mother – who had immigrated to the states when she married my dad. I failed to see that I now understood Europe more than I ever did from studying it in Buffalo. Lastly, during that year, I got engaged and in a sense I was so upset with France for not processing my case in a timely manner that I failed to see that it didn’t matter anymore because I found someone who would happily follow me anywhere.

When I reflect back on my decision to try to live in France, be fluent in French, and be French, I don’t see a woman who was necessarily passionate about France, but a woman who let her pride get the best of her. When I came to France, I had reflected on all the things that didn’t go my way in Germany and looked at France as a place where I could redeem myself. I essentially tried to trade one country for the other.

I was so obsessed with the goals that I made at 22, that I failed to see what I had accomplished in their place. By the age of 25:

  • I had met people from all around the world,
  • I had fulfilled a dream by visiting Russia,
  • I had an internship in Kosovo,
  • I had traveled to over twenty countries,
  • I had a Master’s in Public Policy because of a scholarship,
  • I had lived in both Germany and France,
  • I had fallen in love,
  • I had come to understand Europe better,  
  • I could speak beginner / intermediate French,
  • I had eaten a lot of the best food in the world,
  • I had gotten engaged,
  • I had decided with my fiancé that we would pursue the American dream together,
  • I had realized everything that I didn’t want to do with my life,  
  • I had realized what really matters in life,  
  • and I had become grateful for my life.  

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Looking back, I am entirely grateful that I ‘failed’. When I was 22, I had narrow-minded goals and I am so happy that nothing went as I thought it would. The biggest thing that I have learned, is that we can’t get hung up on our failures because failure is not a ‘lack of success, as it is defined, but being successful with something else. Failure is being successful with something that had not been planned for.

It is for this reason that we cannot shy away from taking chances because we are too afraid to fail. I’ve fallen off the horse twice professionally now, and I know that had I never taken the risks that I did: to try to ‘live in Europe’, ‘work in Europe’, and ‘become European’, I would have spent my life wondering what life could have been like in Europe. Now I know where I belong and I am not scared of getting back on the horse, just motivated to try knowing everything that I know now.

I guess we can say that so much of life really is trial and error on repeat till we win, but if we are too afraid to even try we will never be able to win. I wasted a lot of time being angry at all the things that hadn’t gone my way, so angry that it kept me from seeing all the good things that were and are happening. Subsequently, it is not enough to be willing to try; we must also be able to see the clues for the future that are left behind every time we fall. In order to do so, we have to know how to let go, when things don’t go as planned. By saying goodbye to my critical 22-year-old self, I finally came to realize that we as humans can have goals but they must be fluid. Goals should evolve as we learn because sometimes, life really just happens and life is beautiful.

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