Fine Art of Failure

nice faceplantThese are trying times to be human.
Each era tests our spirit. We want and work to live well-securely, love deeply, and serve with unflagging commitment. We rise and – if we have been fortunate to cultivate hope – we attempt growth and press on.

Sometimes our attempts are near misses and sometimes they fail. Futures we imagine and work towards crash and burn…or evaporate. Pain follows and we grow afraid of failure.

We grow afraid of failure.

And it can be debilitating. 

With fear of failure as Master and Commander: no longer do we scramble up the high dive or into a new class or job or friendship. Opportunities for adventure, fresh air, and all sorts of shenanigans pass by in our easy reach. Our world becomes smaller. So small we forget how it feels to fly off a ramp on skis or accept the hand extended to us.

This fear of failure feeds on itself…it feeds on us. I’ve lived it and can bear witness: fear is a terrible task-master. It’s fiercest foreman is wishful thinking and both are bullies.

As the very worst of humanity revisited my days and terrified my nights a few years back, fear had become my most powerful influencer. I saw no future and became blind to hope. This despair was painted by fear as the long enduring new normal.

One day, it no longer was the “long enduring new normal.” The very worst failure of my experience became the unlikely pick on the lock of fear of failure. I had walked through the valley in the shadow and realized my efforts were no longer frozen in fear’s great dark winter.

Curiously, that superlative hard-to-heal failure was followed by another unexpected shock and my world tipped on end. It was as if all of my belongings and thoughts and faith scattered about in the middle of the rush-hour LA freeway with TMZ filming the worst of it direct-to-web.

You may have read the story before.
I’m revisiting failure because in meeting it faceplant-to-faceplant, I keep discovering so much less to fear. In absence of fear, I have infinitely less to control and more space to live. More space to love others and trust them, their choices, and lives without my input.

The job goes to someone else? Ouch. Must get back at those applications.
Heartbreak visits? No need to check into heartbreak hotel; I’m not staying.
Hit the virus-laden link? It’s bad, but the apocalypse is yet triggered. Start over.
Big dream goes down in flames? We are still here. We were never what we did or dreamed. We are in the right now. It demands our “attention, please!”

We fall.
And then we rise.
In time
with rest
hard work
and intention
good friends who remind us “feelings are not necessarily facts”
mentors who tell us stories of rebuilding
and the rush of unknown…
we rise.

And then we fall and repeat the life cycle.

Why should we be afraid of what we ask every toddler and school kid to do? Try something new, strike out into the unknown, risk what is known and familiar now for a bit of growth and life? Open ourselves to feedback?

So often we say, “Ugh. I had no idea this would happen!” Equally true is the, “Oh. I had no idea this would happen” as the sweetness of the welcome new becomes real.

Failure is not final if we adopt a growth mindset. A growth mindset is not “everyone is a winner,” but is “the belief that qualities can change and that we can develop our intelligence and abilities”* through work and trial and error. This is what we ask the crawlers to do to become walkers and the pre-schoolers to do to become graduates and the graduates to do to become strong in their chosen fields.

We get to fail.
We get to learn we can grow and develop at any age.
We get to remind folks that stumbles and faceplants no more define us than what we had for breakfast (coffee, Greek yogurt, berries, seeds, and oats, thank you very much.)

So here is my key to unlocking the cramped cage fear of failure creates around us: fail.
You can do it. You can do it with flair. It is not permanent and you can always get back up again.

You’ll find your courage return and joy makes its place back at the table. Perhaps not all at once, but – with practice – you’ll be able to add extra space to squeeze in all of the good goofy living you’ve been missing.

“I think you should be serious about what you do because this is it. This is the only life you’ve got.” – Philip Seymour Hoffman

It takes derring do to risk failure. Failure isn’t permanent unless we invite it in for the long haul. It is scary to rebuild. To try again. To learn to walk instead of crawl.

Walk if you can, the view is better.

*From the book, Quiet, by Susan Cain. Also discussed in Helping Children Succeed by Paul Tough and in a “Back to School” podcast on this American Life found here,

2 thoughts on “Fine Art of Failure

  1. Of course Philip Seymour Hoffman was tragically proved correct. I always love it when people plunge courageously in to those hard places in their lives with the intention of wrestling whatever demons and shadows to the ground so that they can experience true freedom. Thanks for going for it. Those were dark days. But they don’t have anything to say about the quality of your life going forward. You are gaining victory in wonderful new ways!


    1. Why thanks, Seth. To be sure, I miss the community of Adventures every day – even as an older Auntie-aged colleague. The people. Such people of courage and purpose.


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