In the weeks leading up to a new blog post, I always find a theme floating to the top. This time it was the theme of failure. A heavily charged word that probably provokes a tightness in your chest that is equivalent to a childhood mentor berating you. In American culture, we have a difficult time even speaking the word “fail” or “failure”. It has become the new “F” word!
A couple weeks ago, a colleague shared with me one of the most profound points of awareness in her childhood coming from her father. She had been dealt one of those losses or disappointments that we suffer when we are young and not unlike most of us, it felt like the end of the world. She so clearly remembered how her insightful father took this opportunity to set this time apart for the young woman that would reset her understanding of failure. He handed her a list of repeated defeats and failures of a person and asked if she she had any idea who that person was? She explained that she didn’t and her dad explained this person overcame all these losses, disappointments and failures to become the 16th President of the United States of America, Abraham Lincoln.
My colleague informed me that moment has forever changed how she saw disappointment and failures. She understood that if a remarkable man in U.S. history like Abraham Lincoln could face and endure such trials and failures, she certainly could fail, fail again and fail better. She was in good company.
The more I thought about the American culture of fear and condemnation around failure, the more palpable it was in the air around me. This past week, Oprah sat down with Pema Chodron, Tibetan Buddhist Nun and author, to talk about a healthy embrace of what failure does for us as living, breathing organisms (humans). She talked about what the experience of failure can teach us about just being human and more intimately, about who we are expanding to be. To deny the process of failure out of fear or ignorance blocks a fundamental human life experience. Pema challenged all of us to look inside and find out what that failure was meant to teach us. She stated that she gave a commencement speech at her granddaughter’s graduation where she challenged the students to go out in life and “fail, fail again and fail better”.
My understanding of what Pema Chodron was inferring by this charge was only by failing repeatedly can we continually raise the bar on the expectations for ourselves. How powerful is the concept of the complete elimination of fear of failure? What would you do if you not only didn’t worry about failing but you embraced the process of failing, to fail again, then in the hopes to fail better?
Go out today and attempt something, anything without fear of failure knowing that the intimate belief in yourself that allowed you to dream big and take the leap will always be a mark in the win column for you. If you fail, and the bigger you dream, the better chance of failure, know that you are in great company!