When I Fall.

Portia Nelson - Version 2
Portia Nelson - Version 2

One of my all-time favorite poems was written by a nun.  Kind of.  OK.  She's not really a nun.

However, since I was a kid watching The Sound of Music every Thanksgiving, I can't help but think about the actress who plays the particularly stern nun from the film.  Her name is Portia Nelson (on the far right in the picture - she had a "problem" with Maria!),  and she wrote the poem below.

Autobiography in Five Short Chapters  (by Portia Nelson)


I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk I fall in. I am lost ... I am helpless. It isn't my fault. It takes me forever to find a way out.


I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I pretend I don't see it. I fall in again. I can't believe I am in the same place but, it isn't my fault. It still takes a long time to get out.


I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I see it is there. I still fall in ... it's a habit. my eyes are open I know where I am. It is my fault. I get out immediately.


I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I walk around it.


I walk down another street.


I love this poem because it's a brilliant reminder that we are not victims of failure.  Much of the time my issues and challenges are less about pure failure and more about what I ignore and what I deny.

I share this poem with friends and work colleagues on a regular basis.  This little narrative reminds me not to be debilitated by my circumstances or to be terribly surprised by the "holes" I find in my path.  This reminder is vital  because we all fall from time to time...especially when facing a new opportunity or challenge.  What I'm in charge of is my attitude when I fall.  I can choose the street that I walk down. If I walk down a wrong street, no big whoop.  Start again.  However, if I do it over and over, I have no one to blame but myself.

I suppose that I play the blame game because it's easy.  I see other people's faults more easily than seeing my own.  Left to my natural tendencies, I attach blame to anyone but myself.  Sometimes I have arguments in my head where I debate people and put them in their place once and for all.  In these imaginary discussions, I always win the point and the other person is dumbfounded by my logic.  (Have you done this?)  At different points in my life, the blame sounded like a few of these statements:

  • My upside down finances aren't due to my spending habits or lack of savings; it's the economy's fault.
  • I didn't start it; he/she did.
  • My role in the relationship isn't the problem; it's the other person's issues.
  • My battle against weight loss isn't due to what I eat; it's my metabolism.
  • That argument wasn't my idea; I was provoked.
  • My position is solid; he/she is being unreasonable.

The harsh reality is this: if I am blaming others constantly, I am stuck in Chapters 1-3. If I spend my energy focused on finding faults with others, I'm wasting time staying in the proverbial "hole." I walk down familar streets FULLY aware that there are giant holes in the sidewalk, but I walk down them anyway.

In 2012, my hope is that I will be more aware of my decisions to walk down certain streets, that I learn to "own" my decisions,  and that I'll learn (eventually) to pick streets with few holes.