Trapped inside ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a bed of nails.
I’ll meet you there.
When the soul is confined in this tug of war, the world is too small to live in. Isolation, endless seeking, and the phrase “not enough”
can only perpetuate in this distorted sense of reality.
“I’m a failure! I’m a failure!” I repeated, hysterically crying in the public shower on my last day in Germany after six weeks of retreat. The words spun inside me like a prayer wheel.
I was determined to unravel them.
“I’m a failure! I’m scum! I’m worthless!”
My body collapsed as water poured down me like summer rain, blending with my tears. The shower had become my crying sanctuary, the water coaxing out my own waters. Even inside the cold prison of my triggered mind, I could relax a little in the warm and gentle flow surrounding me. Here I was safe to dive deeper into this feeling of failure.
I felt numb, confused, overwhelmed, defensive, ashamed, afraid, angry, and empty. I couldn’t touch upon a single feeling for too long, for failure seemed to encompass them all.
Meanwhile, a knot the size of a polar ice cap lodged itself inside my throat, chest, and belly. I felt as if my skin had turned inside out and I was without any protection; my whole body ached and burned. Every breath I drew deepened the knife-like pain I felt inside my heart and intensified this trembling vulnerability I could no longer turn away from: the feeling that I had failed miserably, and that I was a failure.
What had I done to land myself here?
Nothing that bad, really—just a small sneeze in the grand scheme of things. I had misinterpreted instructions while demonstrating a practice in front of 100 women called “I am the Goddess of.” I was jokingly called “The Goddess of Failure” by my teacher as an invitation to keep going and show up in the vulnerability of having made a mistake.
I had done no harm. I had committed no crime. I hadn’t even missed my flight home, like I did as my grand finale the year before. And yet inside me I felt such a violence and ache in the simple act of confronting my human nature: that I had made a mistake. It shook me to the core.
Instead of showing up in my vulnerability, I withdrew into a fog of fear and shame.
In this haze I realized the fear of failure has been with me my entire life, subtly influencing everything I do and everything I’ve become. I’ve spent my life running from failure’s harsh sting, taking every blunder and accomplishment of mine extremely personally.
As an overachiever throughout my school years, I was always considered the youngest and the brightest, bathing in the compliments and not so hidden envy that followed me around. It affirmed my gifts but also created a solid identity that has kept me small and held me back from what I really want: connection beyond any hierarchy of better or worse. The freedom to live out my heart’s longing not in order to succeed at it—not to pretend I am some untouchable, perfect authority figure—but because I care so damn much.
I saw how sad it would be to continue living my life chasing approval, endlessly hungry for a pat on the back from my role models, teachers, and loved ones.
I was ready to stop running from failure. I was ready for change.
Thoroughly undone, I crawled out of the shower and sat on a nearby chair, pausing in a sudden stillness that emerged after my snifflefest. I decided to give voice to this Goddess of Failure, letting her speak through me.
“I am the Goddess of Failure.
I tear apart everything you have and make you feel worthless. I crumble the ground beneath you, leaving you heartbroken, disappointed, and hopeless.
I remind you that you are not that arbitrary image of perfection you try to be, and trip you while you endlessly run towards improvement.
I pull the red carpet of pride and stability from underneath you, leaving you trembling in the deep dark of the unknown, faced with taking responsibility for your actions and cleaning up the mess you made.
I am Kali’s world. I topple over everything you build up and teach you that what you really long for can never be built.
I get close to your face when you dare to dream. I lurk by your side when you dare to go after something you want. I make the stakes high. I shatter your dreams to pieces just to test you, just to see how badly you want something and if you’re willing to go after your dreams again, having touched the depths of failure.
I don’t touch those who don’t dare to try, dream, or hope—but they suffer without my help.
I remind you that the outcome is always unknown, and that the journey to where you want to go is just as valuable as the destination—and you better enjoy the journey because I might rip everything apart when you get to the destination. In fact, I think I will, and I’ll call it Death.
If you take me personally, I will trap you in a small box of identity where you believe your worth is determined by other people’s opinions, and it becomes pretty damn uncomfortable.
The whole world is afraid of me and has created elaborate structures and systems to avoid me at all costs, as if success is defined by my absence. Not true.
My presence is inevitable—universal, even. I have touched great souls of this world and propelled them into genius through their intimate love affair with me. These souls turned towards me, humbled enough to bow down and feast upon the great insights and feedback I brought that would refine their work and teach them invaluable lessons.
I am a necessary part of learning, and those who love learning far more than they fear me are propelled even further into their dreams, into a real success that includes rather than denies failure.
I am the source of destruction, but also the source of growth. I create teachable moments: that vulnerability and openness to learning incredibly rich, unforgettable life lessons. I compost experience into jewels of wisdom and truth.
I spawn creativity and carefulness, forgiveness and compassion. I breed humility and humor, clear heartedness, commitment, second chances, and third chances.
If you can learn from me and stand firmly yet tremblingly on the raw earth I leave you on, then you know your dreams are worth dreaming. Then you know you are living your life not to gain approval or success—not to avoid me—but because you simply love being alive. If you can befriend me and give your gifts even in my presence, without being attached to the outcome, you are unstoppable.
I give birth to a depth of hope that cannot be shattered.
I am the Goddess of Failure.”
Through meeting the Goddess of Failure, I’ve come to meet my reflection in the mirror, seeing my shortcomings and my brilliance—only to realize I am neither of them.
I’m ready and willing now to fail magnificently, to fall as far as I need in order to learn the lessons and wisdom that will enable me to live with impeccable integrity and a deeply-rooted commitment to truth.
I’m ready to stop placing my worth in the ever-vacillating dance between right and wrong, and to let it rest instead in the very fact that I am alive, that I belong to this precious Earth, whose unconditional love and support has been here long before I was born and, I pray, will remain long after I die. It is a miracle.
I owe these vulnerable lessons and that ever-churning ache in my heart that reminds me I am alive to the Goddess of Failure. Thank you, failure, for breathing me, for breathing us all into life. I am at your feet in gratitude.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: Kathleen Maher at Flickr