The following is an excerpt adapted from Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better: Wise Advice for Leaning into the Unknown by Pema Chödrön – this week’s exclusive TWIY giveaway. Not signed up? Click here.
Failure is a universal human experience—it’s just part of life that things will happen that you don’t want to happen.
When her granddaughter was accepted to Naropa University, the celebrated author Pema Chödrön promised that she’d speak at the commencement ceremony.
Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better contains the wisdom shared on that day. “What do we do when life doesn’t go the way we hoped?” begins Pema. “We say ‘I’m a failure.’” But what if failing weren’t just “okay”… but a vital thread that can help connect us both personally and professionally to others. Here, Pema Chödrön offers us her heartfelt advice on facing the unknown. We can learn how our missteps can open our eyes to see new possibilities, purpose, and a new integrated approach to our lives.
7 Lessons To Turn Toward Failure And Move Forward – By Pema Chödrön
No one ever knows what is going to happen next.
But these transition times—between something being set and things being uncertain—are times of enormous potential.
Anything is possible.
There is a lot of emphasis on succeeding. And whether we buy the hype or not, we all want to succeed, especially if you consider success as “it works out the way I want it to.” You know it feels good in the gut and in the heart because it worked out. So failing by that definition is that it didn’t work out the way you wanted it to. And [failing] is what we don’t usually get a lot of preparation for.
So fail, fail again, fail better. It’s like how to get good at holding the rawness of vulnerability in your heart.
We can’t get in a good relationship or we are in a relationship that ends painfully or we can’t get a job. Or we are fired from the job we have.
There are usually two ways that we deal with that. We either blame it on somebody else or some other—the organization, our boss, or partner, whatever. We have this feeling that there is something fundamentally wrong with us.
One of the ways to sort of pull yourself up or help yourself to hold this is to begin to question what is really happening when there is a failure.
So someone gave me a quote, something from James Joyce’s Ulysses, where Joyce wrote about how failure can lead to discovery. And he actually didn’t use the word “failure”; he used the word “mistake,” as in making a mistake. He said, that mistakes can be “the portals of discovery.”
Sometimes you experience failed expectations as heartbreak and disappointment, and sometimes you feel rage. Failure or things not working out as you’d hoped doesn’t feel good; that’s for sure. But at that time, maybe instead of doing the habitual thing of labeling yourself a “failure” or a “loser” or thinking there is something wrong with you, you could get curious about what is going on. If you can just remember that you never know where something will lead.
Getting curious about outer circumstances and how they are impacting you, noticing what words come out and what your internal discussion is, this is the key.
“Fail better” means you begin to have the ability to hold the rawness of vulnerability in your heart, and see it as your connection with other human beings and as a part of your humanness. Failing better means when these things happen in your life, they become a source of growth, a source of forward, a source of out of that place of rawness you can really communicate genuinely with other people.
Your best qualities come out of that place because it’s unguarded and you’re not shielding yourself.
And so I can tell you that it is out of this same space that come our best human qualities of bravery, kindness, and the ability to really reach out to and care about each other. It’s where real communication with other people starts to happen, because it’s a very unguarded, wide-open space in which you can go beyond the blame.
The question is, are you going to grow or are you going to just stay as you are out of fear and waste your precious human life by status quo-ing instead of being willing to break the sound barrier? Break the glass ceiling, or whatever it is in your own life?
I suggest finding the willingness to go forward instead of staying still, which is essentially going backward, particularly when you have a calling in some direction. That calling needs to be answered. And it’s not necessarily going to work out the way you want it to work out, but it is taking you forward, and you are leaving the nest. And that never can be a mistake—to fly instead of staying in the nest.
Adapted from Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better: Wise Advice for Leaning into the Unknown by Pema Chodron. Copyright © 2015 by Pema Chodron. Published in September 2015 by Sounds True.
Pema Chödrön is an American-born Buddhist nun and the author of many spiritual classics, including When Things Fall Apart (Shambhala, 2000). She serves as resident teacher at Gampo Abbey Monastery in Nova Scotia and is a student of Dzigar Kongtrul, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, and the late Chögyam Trungpa. For more, visit pemachodronfoundation.org and www.soundstrue.com/fail-better.
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