There is Only One Way to Fail in Life.

Via Ben Ralston
on Dec 2, 2014
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My Dad held my hand and pointed to the stars.

He told me the distance to the moon, and how many galaxies there are, and about infinity.

He taught me to play chess.

And (even whilst squirming at the defeat) revelled in my victories.

He played games and told jokes.

And then one day he wasn’t there anymore.

The light went out of his eyes. Suddenly. Or at least, I didn’t see it coming. I was perhaps too caught up in my own adolescent problems.

But one day he was gone. A poof of smoke would have been something but no. He just…wasn’t there anymore.

His body climbed out of bed in the morning.

It even stood under the tree by the garage, and after sweeping the ground clear, practiced Tai Chi, as it had done for over a decade before that.

It got in the car. Drove an hour into the city, early. Did what always seemed to me to be a very long day’s work. Drove an hour back, late.

Still the same routine, movements, action.

But the life was gone from his eyes. Those eyes that used to twinkle starlight when I was a child.

He’d forgotten about infinity. Only squirmed at the defeats (going to bed without saying goodnight, face like thunder). The games and jokes became slightly sarcastic and, dare I say “bitter?”

And I started begging him to come back.

I pleaded. (Pled?)

And then the universe started pleading with him too. No matter how hard he worked, or how much he worried, his business started this slow decline.

He lost part of his pension (the very thing he’d been slowly killing himself for) when a bank went under (or something. I don’t know).

But he wouldn’t listen. He was very stubborn like that.

After about seven years of that he got a disease that just pulled the switch. The communication between his brain and his muscles stopped working, muscle by muscle. And there was this slow fade.

In the end, the last time I saw him, he was trying not to fall off the toilet. Skeletal, in physical pain and, I’m certain, a terrible emotional anguish.

I’m sorry, deeply, to say that I didn’t sit with him and prop him up and tell him some old jokes and just f*cking stay with him while he died.

I didn’t have the courage then and that’s the truth.

One of the last things he ever said to me was that he felt like a failure.

This mountain of a man, this giant of giants and hero of heros, felt like a failure!

He suppressed his nature and drowned his own dreams, loved and was faithful to one woman all his life, raised three good men—two his own, one adopted: as he said to me at the time—and it was when there was still life in him:

“The way I see it, if this was a village, and one of the tribe had lost his parents, you’d just take him in. You wouldn’t think about it.”

He was sober and honest and good. He taught me that the most important thing, “the only thing,” was honesty.

He owned his own business and paid his employees both a good salary and shares in the company.

So what is failure then?

I’ll tell you. It’s compromising with life.

We have to take life by the horns and wrestle her to the ground and make love to her. Every moment. Every day.

“This is my life,” we have to growl, reminding ourselves again and again that no matter what old programming, no matter how many lies we were told and shown, we simply refuse to believe that we don’t know, in our blood and our bones and our DNA…how to live.

This is my life. I know how to live it. In every moment I know exactly how to live it.

And there are no rules.



I Wish For You an Epic Fail. ~ Michelle Marchildon

The Only Thing We Need to be Happy.


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Author: Ben Ralston 

Editor: Renée Picard

Photo: courtesy of the author 


About Ben Ralston

Ben Ralston has been practising personal development—necessity being the Mother of invention—since he was about six years old. He’s been teaching and sharing what he’s learnt along the way for a couple of decades. His main thing is Heart of Tribe retreats—whose very purpose is to help you fall back in love with life, no less. Leading these retreats alongside his woman Kara-Leah Grant—also an elephant journal writer (that’s how they met!)—they combine a deep well of lineage-based yoga teaching experience, with expertise in healing trauma and various other methods of personal development. Ben also works with clients one-on-one via Skype, writes, makes videos from time to time, and is passionate about parenting. He lives in an intentional, tribal community in the hills of Croatia, where you might find him gardening barefoot and talking to the rocks. Connect with Ben on Facebook or YouTube or check out his website for more info.


64 Responses to “There is Only One Way to Fail in Life.”

  1. bobba gnu says:

    I have always said to anyone who will listen that gambling your Youth (soul, passion, spiritual essence) for a “steady income in your 60s, 70s, and 80s” is a horrible terrible tragic bet!

    Would love to expand on that topic BUT instead would suggest a complete re-working/ abandonment of traditional “financial planning” for Generations xy and z. There is some encouraging evidence that it’s already occurring.

    Experiential living, that recognizes the value of good health affords the informed to make the decisions required to live passionately. To live richly does not require financial wealth, nor does financial wealth ensure a life lived richly.

    As example, the dirt bag surfers, snowboarders, skiers, backpackers, mountain climbers, artists,musicians,bikers and trout bums know this and work cooperatively towards personal fulfillment against the steady mainstream head winds of the current competitive capitalistic culturual norm.

    Frankly, how much wealth would I need to buy back my 20s? My 30s? Or my 40s? If you assigned a dollar value to each decade of your life, what would it be? Which would be assigned a higher monetary value, your 20s or your 80s (should you be lucky to live that long)?

    I think few people would trade their 20s for their 80s, and very many more would trade their 80s for their 20s. We just need to create financial vehicles and systems that account for these truths.

    I think a speculative discussion on that vision of the future would be interesting.

  2. scott says:

    what happened to your dad? alzheimer's? depression? dementia? did i miss a part? sorry to be indelicate.

  3. Cathy says:

    Most of my life has been living a life I hated. At 52 and losing my job last October I am slowly discovering what brings me joy and going with that. I am being creative and going for walks in nature. I feel happy for the first time in a long, long time. I am doing what brings me joy. Go towards your joy. This is such an important lesson and your piece just reinforced that even more. We think we have to live a certain way because business needs us to be trained rats. Make love to life every day!

  4. Ben_Ralston says:

    Yes, thank you.

  5. Fifi says:

    Awe inspired. It raws like it's alive . Dude, It rocks

  6. Jeannie Thompson says:

    We have to take life by the horns and wrestle her to the ground and make love to her. Every moment. Every day

    What if this was worded,
    "wrestle him to the ground and make love to him. Every moment. …."
    It doesn't have the PUNCH as the metaphor, does it~?

    Because those words as metaphor create a living symbol.

    [do men and boys get raped? yes, every day. i'm saying to use 'her' is to evoke a very….intense and real—you're not hearing how this is wrong from the others…..]

    This entry would be wonderful
    SANS THE GRAPHIC metaphor.

    If you can't (won't) see it, that's ….kinda bad….

  7. Jeannie Thompson says:

    I think all the readers see it, yet the writer has an attachment to his words and won't let it go as …yes, violent.

  8. Leah Morris says:

    The language you have used is pro-rape culture:

    “So what is failure then?

    I’ll tell you. It’s compromising with life.

    We have to take life by the horns and wrestle her to the ground and make love to her. Every moment. Every day.”

    I understand what you are saying, but I do not believe it is correct. It is a very insensitive and bulldozer-way of going through life to get what you want from life no matter what life is asking of you. Taking care of ourselves does not mean disregarding the needs of others. I think this kind of mindset makes us insensitive and cold. A stereotypical business man attitude is what I see from this article. It is more challenging to make room for the needs of others, while balancing your own. Do not compromise your values, but do not force them upon others. Living a compassionate life is a balance. It is balancing those obligations to others, while being true to ourselves. If we trample everything in our path to understanding, we will arrive having understood nothing.

  9. jasmine says:

    life is a is a fight. life is a struggle. life is making love to a sunset and sleeping in the arms of has horns and teeth and can bite or kiss or tenderly stroke you or rip you to pieces with circumstance and situation. horns?my life has thorns and horns and soft downy places to fall that are safe and warm

    it IS the the light and the darkness and walking the fine line in between, holding on and grasping the good times to get us through the inevitable struggles.

    rapey? yes. life is rape. love and innocence and youth and joy can be torn from us and leave us naked and trembling and besmirched. but life is also a lover, all tenderness and gentle whispers. hold on and let go and dont take umbrage at words that are only one way of painting a picture.

    watch the sunset

    wish on a falling star.

    sleep and be grateful to wake up to a pouring rain,

    stop looking for things to be offended by. you will surely find them.

  10. Stephen says:

    Thank you for sharing this…taking a cross section of your own personal life experience, putting it out there and actually inviting response from others is an act of great courage. Your story is vulnerable, personal and raw, you have discovered here, not everyone will agree with your experience or the way you tell your story…but that's ok…this is your path, your experience and these are your words..listen to the feedback of others and if any of it resonates with you, hear it, but ultimately you are the author of your life and your story…we all are…that's what I got from this.."you are the sky and everything else is just the weather" claim it, courageously and passionately in each moment "lean into it all"..remember what's important…. be present.

  11. Ben_Ralston says:

    Interesting that I'm actually saying "make love" and people are inferring RAPE. No?

  12. Ben_Ralston says:

    Best compliment every. Thank you 🙂

  13. Ben_Ralston says:

    Great comment. T/hank you

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