“We seem to gain wisdom more readily through our failures than through our successes. We always think of failure as the antithesis of success, but it isn’t. Success often lies just the other side of failure.”
~ Leo F. Buscaglia
A New Way to Look at Failure
When something seemingly goes wrong, I don’t use the word “failure” anymore. Instead, I like to call it what I’ve come to see it as: a honing or tempering experience. I believe that the specific language we use creates an internal framework which influences how we perceive and experience our world. Therefore, I try to eliminate words such as “mistake”, “failure” and “wrong” from my vocabulary, replacing them with phrases such as “a learning experience”, “just one step along my journey” or “a clarifying experience”. For me, this kind of mental shift and self-soothing increases the probability that I’ll be able to see the benefit of an experience. Whenever I blame myself (or anyone else), not only does it feel bad, it keeps me from being able to see the value of my experience.
Nothing is Ever Really Finished
I’ve come to understand that calling something a “failure” is simply taking score too soon. Labeling an experience a “failure” is like taking a snapshot of the scoreboard in the middle of the game and staying transfixed upon it–but of course, that snapshot doesn’t accurately represent the whole picture. The game goes on. And the season goes on. And there’s more than one season. Life is a continual process of defining, refining and re-defining. I’m starting to get that there really isn’t any concrete endpoint to any single experience, so I say to myself, “Why not just relax?”
“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
~ Michael Jordan
Every Life Experience Has Great Value
Every single life experience is valuable, if we allow it to be. Often, what we call our worst failures are the exact experiences we need to lay the groundwork for our most notable successes–because one thing is certain: when something goes really wrong, an equally really strong desire for something different is born within us. And there is powerful potential in that kind of energy. If we let it, tremendous positive change can be fueled by the birth of such strong desire–the kind of powerful desire which can only be born out of experiences most would call adversity or failure.
READJUST Your FOCUS
Something going “wrong” has the potential to take us down new paths we never would have otherwise discovered. And while it’s natural to “take the hit” of something going seemingly wrong, and it’s normal to feel bad about it, I’ve learned that the sooner I get my eye off it and the sooner I focus my mind to the possible good that can come out of it, the better I feel and the sooner those benefits come.
New Thoughts—New Beginnings
A new beginning doesn’t start with an action, it starts with an internal choice: the choice to begin thinking new thoughts–thoughts that feel good, or at least that feel better about that subject. I finally understand that the real new beginning is about discovering a new way to think about something. And most often it takes something big to get our attention, to serve as the impetus to want something different. Often, that’s what it takes to shake us up so we can let go of old habitual patterns of thought that no longer serve us.
Fireweed is the first plant to quickly fill in after a forest fire has destroyed the landscape. It quickly proliferates the mountainsides and valleys with its happy magenta purple blossoms—the first signs of the regeneration and growth yet to come. While forest fires seem destructive, we now understand that in the bigger picture they are part of the beneficial rejuvenation of the land.
A successful life isn’t about trying to control everything around us so that it always goes perfectly; it’s not about never tripping up, never making an imperfect choice, or never feeling momentarily lost. A successful life is about understanding how to refocus so we can reap the benefits of our experiences and move forward in joy. And the way to move forward when something feels like it’s gone wrong, is to—as best you can—let your mind turn to hopeful magenta fireweed-like thoughts and know there is hope—always, there is hope.
For a funny take on failure, check out this great New Yorker cartoon.
Fire Pit; photography by madlyinlovewithlife; © 2014 madlyinlovewithlife
Final Score on the Scoreboard; CC by Robert Neff via Flickr
Fireweed, photography by madlyinlovewithlife; © 2012 madlyinlovewithlife