On Failure

fail harder

My friend Claudette posted this piece today: Since when did the word ______ become dirty in yoga?. I wondered what the word was that filled in the blank, so I meandered over to see. Perfection. Oh. That word.

I read with curiosity, interested to see how he was going to unpack what perfection meant in the context of yoga. He does define it, but that wasn’t what struck me so much as this:

I need to deny this small, measly self within me that can’t tolerate perfection, I refuse to be too fragile to admit that I am not strong enough or devoted enough to reach for such an unattainable place. Instead I humbly get on my knees and cry out for the strength to fail, and to fail, and to fail, and to fail, as happily and as endlessly as is necessary to take one step towards the lofty mastery of perfection. Let me champion perfection, protect it, covet it, yearn for it, breathe it, know it, risk for it, love it, respect it, fear it, cherish it, tolerate my need for it, lay it all on the line for it.

And I realized something. I have defined my own failure as my inability to achieve. BUT. This idea of failing and failing and failing again and again and again in pursuit of a higher purpose – that is not failure. That is the story of Sisysphus as told by Camus, the man who found his meaning in repeatedly rolling the rock up the hill, not in attaining the summit. I doubt David Garrigues is an Existentialist, but it’s where I went.

I’ve judged myself by my inability to achieve, when I should have realized that what I lacked wasn’t results, but focus. I had no defining principle, no purpose that pulled me forward. I was merely bobbing along, adrift and responding to whatever I bumped into.

I’ve decided this year to let my writing be the defining center. And because I did that, I leapt at the opportunity to go on a writing retreat for 5 days when it appeared. In the past, I would have let it go, because I hadn’t had enough time to prepare myself. But what needed preparing? Only my mind, which was already ready.

Tell me about your failures. Fail harder. Fail softer. Fail funnier. Just keep failing.

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8 thoughts on “On Failure

  1. G.G. Silverman

    Beautiful post. As someone who also works with the entrepreneur community, I can tell you, you won’t believe how many times I hear that failure is actually a necessary part of success, how many entrepreneurs fell down 19 times before the 20th time was a go, because they learned what they needed to learn, and failure was the only available teacher. Keep failing, beautifully, until something works.

    1. slowbloom Post author

      Thanks GG! Yes, we learn what we need to know to move forward from our failures as much as our successes. Thanks for being part of my community.

  2. Rebecca

    I’m so excited for you, Jill! The failing you mention made me think of falling, which made me think of Laurie Anderson’s “Walking and Falling,” where she says:

    You’re walking. And you don’t always realize it,
    but you’re always falling.
    With each step you fall forward slightly.
    And then catch yourself from falling.
    Over and over, you’re falling.
    And then catching yourself from falling.
    And this is how you can be walking and falling
    at the same time.

    And I see the process you’re talking about as very similar; in order to move forward, we fall a little, and then catch ourselves, and fall (or fail) again, but always moving. I wish you a wonderful retreat!

    1. slowbloom Post author

      Thanks Rebecca! I love that quote from Laurie Anderson.

      Problem was, I wasn’t walking/falling in any particular direction. Difference is, now I am. \m/

  3. it's still raw

    Focus is a spiritual issue– about meaning– whether experienced as self chosen or discovered. I have not found any shortcuts.

    I have noticed that if a person has a strong imperative to write or make art, their lives may fall into place once they prioritize their creative work as #1 and treat any kind of creative block as a thing as grave (and as time-sensitive) as not being able to keep down food or water.

    Maybe this is because blocking oneself creatively sucks enormous energy, which is released when a person stops blocking and becomes available to sort out issues like what should my relationships look like, what do I for a day job, how should I live. These questions are suddenly not so hard.

  4. Diane

    Good for you for leaping at the opportunity to go to the writing retreat, Jill. And I love the line “I was merely bobbing along, adrift and responding to whatever I bumped into.” One of the things that helped me re-framed “failure” was a cartoon by Ted Goff (yes, a cartoon). It had a woman in front of a chalkboard. On one side was the title “Successes” and had a few marks underneath it. On the other side, were five times as many marks, but above it was “Learning Experiences”. Enjoyed the post, Jill. Thanks.

    1. slowbloom Post author

      I love cartoons! Often the visual adds a bit of something that words alone don’t convey. Very cool. Love reframing these experiences under “learning” instead of “failure.” Thanks for stopping by and sharing your story.

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