Failure is inevitable; it is a normal part of the human experience. Sometime, somehow, in this lifetime, you will fail. But what will be the result? Will you end up in a better place? Or worse off than when you started?
Learning to Fail Well
We learn in early childhood that we will not always get our way. Our parents tell us, “No!” when we ask for that toy at the grocery store, try to slide down the stairs face first, and try to push the curfew past 10 P.M.
Then comes adolescence, and the failures seem catastrophic. However, it isn’t until adulthood that we begin to have such a negative response to failure, since it seems to have such an outstanding outcome on our already complicated lives. Job loss. Death. A relationship ending.
Trauma, fires, accidents, backstabbing, rebellious kids—it’s no wonder the things we seem to fail at create such a montage of self-doubt, fear, guilt, and depression.
And really, it’s natural to be afraid of failure—afraid of the disappointment and loss. But what if you saw your failures as an opportunity for growth? Instead of becoming the victim of loss, what if you embraced these failures with gratitude, letting go of the guilt and fear?
We already know failure is unavoidable. So if we don’t have the choice of avoiding failure in our lives, let’s entertain the idea of choosing the way we respond to these let-downs. Let’s begin to look at failure in a new way: as a new beginning. Let’s learn how to fail better.
How attached are you to your house, your things, and your relationships? Can you imagine what you would feel like if you came home only to discover that you had been robbed? Or to discover that your significant other was having an affair?
These changes can be traumatic, if you allow them to be. This is the key here: If you allow them to be. Sometimes, however, abrupt changes in our lives can be the best lessons, and allowing yourself to appreciate this truth makes the realization much more satisfying.
Can you allow yourself to be non-attached to the constant need for re-affirmation from your spouse, your boss, your mother, your friends, or your possessions? YOU ARE OKAY. You do not need another person or material things to tell you that you are okay in order to truly be okay.
A Chinese Parable
There was once a young man who lived in a very poor village in China. But because the family owned a horse, they were considered wealthy. One day, while out for a ride, the boy stopped to rest, and his horse ran away.
The villagers went to his father to express their sorrow for the family’s great loss. “Very bad luck!” they cried. The sage-like father shook his head and calmly said, “Maybe good. Maybe bad.”
The next day, the boy went hunting for the missing horse, and to his great joy found a herd of wild horses, which he rounded up and brought back to the village. The excited villagers exclaimed, “What great fortune—your luck has returned!” The wise elder again calmly said, “Maybe good. Maybe bad.”
The next morning, while trying to tame one of the wild horses, the boy was trampled and left crippled. The loss of a healthy son is indeed a sign of bad luck. When the village people saw the young man’s mangled leg, they went to the father to express their sympathy for his change in fortune.
The elder man’s reply was the same: “Maybe good. Maybe bad.”
Within the week, the Chinese army marched into the village and rounded up all the able-bodied young men—to take away to war.
The Art of Failing without Failing
What does this Chinese Parable have to do with non-attachment?
Consider the old man’s reply to both fortunate and unfortunate circumstances: “Maybe good, Maybe bad.” The old man was wise to feel neither discomfort nor attachment toward his circumstances. Whether he was faced with success or failure, they were met with equal neutrality.
This does not mean that you should hold back emotions. Be happy! Be sad! Be angry! Be excited!
Acknowledge, however, that just like the illusion of certainty, these emotions are fleeting. And if you are wise enough to see the good within the bad, the opportunity within the failures, and the forest through the trees, you are learning the true art of failure without failing.