Failure is a scary word to me.
For most of my life, I’ve carried around the belief that failure is not an option – in anything. I’ve also battled a heavy tendency toward perfectionism, which at times has left me creatively blocked and swimming in a sea of my own self-loathing. Not surprisingly, many writers and creative types share these traits, which if not dealt with head on, can lead to depression and anxiety.
Although failure can propel us to strive harder in achieving our goals, it can also do considerable damage if taken too seriously, convincing us that mistakes are unacceptable, bad and simply not allowed.
Yet around every corner, failure is waiting to teach us something. Failure wants us to learn. Failure’s job is to break our conditioned perfectionist beliefs - which are unnatural to our spiritual Souls – and help us grow. Failure, in and of itself, is necessary for fulfilling our purpose in life.
The Cake Test
With my newfound understanding of the role that failure plays in my life, God recently gave me the opportunity to test my resolve.
This year for my husband’s birthday I decided to bake him a cake from scratch. I’m talking homemade frosting and all.
Now, let me preface this by saying that Rick’s birthday falls on Jan. 3, which poses a few issues.
By the time the third day of the new year rolls around, I’m pretty much wiped out from the mad holiday rush. With the exception of the 40th birthday party I threw him a couple years ago, you can usually find me scrambling around town Jan. 2, with the kids in tow, trying to piece his birthday together. This includes ordering a cake from Stein’s in Dallas, our favorite bakery, even though round trip it’s 20 miles from our home.
Don’t get me wrong. Rick loves him a good Stein’s cake. And never once has he expected – or asked me – to make him one homemade.
But for some odd primal reason, this year I decided to go all out and bake a triple layer, chocolate fudge cake – from two different recipes – to mark his day.
I started planning out the cake days in advance. Even though I’d baked cakes before, they never really had turned out that great for some reason or another (like the one I bombed a couple Christmas’ ago that tasted like chalk). Determined to get this one right, I asked my friend Amy, who always makes delicious cakes, what I needed to do to ensure that this cake would come out of the oven as moist and decadent as hers.
“Always bake at a lower temperature and for a longer time than the recipe calls for,” she told me.
Keeping this in mind, I made sure my eggs were room temperature and my butter completely softened. I took time measuring the cocoa powder and melting the unsweetened chocolate baking bars until silky smooth. I carefully alternated the flour and melted chocolate while keeping the mixer on low. I greased and floured my cake pans, prepped the cooling area and gave my sons turns stirring the batter.
A few times Rick passed by the kitchen with a skeptical eye, while doing his best to ignore the mountain of dirty mixing bowls collecting in the sink and on the counter tops. I pressed on, setting my sights on producing the perfect birthday dessert.
Moment Of Learning
Then things got squirrely and I ended up rushing through the chocolate fudge frosting. The recipe didn’t call for many ingredients, only cocoa powder, butter, confectioners sugar and milk.
Sounds simple, right?
Not if you miscalculate the measurements.
So here we are back from dinner and I start to frost the cake. After spreading the first “crumb layer,” I knew I was in trouble when only about a cup of icing remained. The boys (including the birthday boy himself) are now circling me like vultures … “Is the cake ready yet?” … “When can we sing happy birthday?” …. “MOM-MEE, I want cake!”
At this point, I knew I had run out of time. If I stopped to make more icing, it would delay our family birthday celebration another hour and my kids would be eating cake right at their bedtime. And if you’re a parent, you know how that would turn out.
So the pressure was on. Presented with this problem a few years ago, the old Stephanie would have crumbled like an over-baked sugar cookie, made a scene and sulked to her bedroom. Not a good example to set for your kids, if you ask me.
Instead, the new post-therapy Stephanie did something surprisingly different.
I stayed calm.
And I also had me a good belly laugh.
I knew deep down that God was trying to teach me something, as He had tried so many times before. I know now that He was trying to teach me patience and self-control – and that it’s OK to mess up sometimes. Importantly, though, God was trying to teach me self-love.
That night, we stuck candles in the half-frosted cake and sang our hearts out in celebration of my husband. The kids hardly noticed the lack of icing and even whined for another slice. What looked like a hack job turned out to taste heavenly and now ranks as one of our top birthday cakes ever.
Our baby sitter, who had a slice a couple days later, had her mom call me for the recipe. And just the other day, my oldest son asked me to make “daddy’s chocolate cake” again.
Nice shot, failure. But this time, you missed.