There is Only One Way to Fail in Life.

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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

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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. Ben_Ralston says:

    11590 views and not a single comment?
    Life is short, speak your mind, spill the beans, let me know what you feel. And let's talk about it 🙂

    • Kimberely says:


      I've read your words for some time now (gosh, a few years?!), and have always been deeply moved. You are one of those persons that even though we've never met, I feel I know you (because you lay your heart out there, free and clear). What you share is always brutal and clear in it's honesty and compassion.

      This hit me very hard – because I see my partner in this story, working and trying so, so hard while the world crushes in on him.

      Many blessings,

    • Lisa says:

      I plan to write for my mom who died on January 1, 2000. She fought to live to see the millennial and did! I felt, with you words, about justing sitting and being with her in her days of dying. I was too young and unwise to know. You've told the story of a man who lived courageous (successful not failure) enough to leave beautiful impressions of "father" with you. We are all courageous and humbled in our dying.

  2. Tori says:

    Make love to your life, I really appreciate this Ben. Open to the deeply vulnerable places of grief and tenderness, that is where the aliveness lives. Today I water this tenderness, this innocently sensual love of being, here Mother Gaia. Watering a small bud of aliveness and my heart feels broken open a little more. Thank you

  3. Bri says:

    really beautiful article ben…made me cry !

  4. I agree. I am only responding to say the comment system looks clunky and i just skim past it. If it was simpler, for example, a Facebook comments button, I would use it more and I think others would too.

  5. Mince says:

    Thank for sharing your experience. After my own near death experience in a dive accident, the thought off not seeing my loved ones haunted me, so I was fortunate to have been with my father when he passed from cancer, all his family were present. Despite the pain he was suffering he put on a brave face, trying to hide his suffering, using the last reserves off his energy to smile at each off his grandchildren. In a financial sense, he too was a failure, but in a spiritual sense, he succeeded and continues to inspire me.

  6. oliviawood says:

    My dad also taught me about the beauty of nature. He'd stop the car by the side of a country lane and make us get out to look at the view (or the stars if it was night time). (He's still alive btw.) But he never quite grabbed life by the horns – held back by self-doubt (and fear). As a child / teenager I vowed not to let anything hold me back from being what I wanted to be / doing what I wanted to do / living how I wanted to live, but it didn't turn out that way. I fell into the trap of living a life prescribed for me by others, not myself. Not anymore though (yay!) and like you I want to inspire others to do the same. We don't need rules! We need to trust in ourselves and each other.
    Your articles are always so beautiful, true and inspiring. Thank you 🙂

  7. Brooke says:

    I LOVE that you say we have to take life by the horns and wrestle her down EVERYDAY. This is so true. I am on a journey to freedom and it is taking a few years but it is hard work to own your own life. I am wrestling!! It isn't easy. It IS easy to fall into the traps of society and negative people and mundane parts of life trying to steal the show. It IS a struggle to stay true to yourself but oh so worth it. Just refreshing to hear the word "wrestle" instead of falling gently.

    • Ben_Ralston says:

      Cool. Glad you resonate with the language I used. Some didn't and that's also fine, but as a writer it's nice when people get it!
      yes, I believe that wrestling with life is a good analogy. Life is hard and to live well (especially in these 'interesting times') is not easy. Discipline, warrior spirit and courage are required!

  8. Nancy says:

    I love this, thank you for sharing this story.

    I question (reacted to) the "…wrestle her to the ground…"

    Do we have to wrestle? I love (LOVE!) your final paragraph "…refuse to believe that we don't know…how to live." I wonder, if we all knew this down to our bones – we might not need to wrestle anything or anyone or any perception, because we would trust the knowing that we do know how to be in just this life.

    • Ben_Ralston says:

      Hi Nancy, yes, it's a reaction.
      I understand, but would ask you to really investigate what those words triggered in you – at the deepest level.
      Yes, if we all knew how to live deep in our bones thing would be different. But we really don't, and yes, I believe that wrestling with life is a good analogy. Life is hard and to live well (especially in these 'interesting times') is not easy. Discipline, warrior spirit and courage are required!
      With love

  9. Yani says:

    Thank you Ben, I'm crying and I'm in the office… so big breath here before I continue… I think it touch a nerve in me…because I went through that for a while…and then I found the spark in life again. The circumstances I'm not going to describe (it would make the comment too long) , It's funny because I remember seeing everything gray and plain, no passion in my heart, no life. I found my spark thanks to a counselor, therapist and then guess what? yoga. My son was 5 at the time and I didn't want to live like that because of him and also because of me. Deep inside of me I knew, I remembered…how was it, how life can be fulfilling, intense, living with passion, with depth… Now I see other people sad and trapped by that …cloud? bitterness…or like you describe it "life was gone from their eyes" …
    Seriously. The best article I read in a long time. Thank you!!!!!!!! <3

  10. CKK says:

    This is beautiful, but this line:
    'We have to take life by the horns and wrestle her to the ground and make love to her. Every moment. Every day'
    Why does 'life' have horns and have to be wrestled to the ground metaphorically? Why is the feminine seen as the struggle?

    • Ben_Ralston says:

      Well, interesting points.
      I am writing as a man, so life to me is feminine. And yes, I believe that wrestling with life is a good analogy. Life is hard and to live well (especially in these 'interesting times') is not easy. Discipline, warrior spirit and courage are required!
      With love

  11. thepathtoyourdoor says:

    I was struck by that line as well and then the following making love to life thing. I couldn't help but think 'wow that took a turn toward rape-y town'. Other then that it was beautiful.

    • Ben_Ralston says:

      Thank you for your comment. I think that you are reacting / being triggered slightly by my poetic use of language.
      The thing is, I do believe we have to really have courage and warrior spirit to live fully. Those qualities are mostly lost. So my writing is about inspiring people to live more fully.

  12. Nicola Larosa says:

    Ok, you asked for it. This does not resonate with me.

    "He suppressed his nature and drowned his own dreams" and then "So what is failure then? I’ll tell you. It’s compromising with life." Make up your mind, maybe?

    Also: "loved and was faithful to one woman all his life" That is not a goal, and not necessarily commendable. Self-sacrifice does not help anyone.

    Others commented about the "turn toward rape-y town". You may want to think about it.

    • Ben_Ralston says:

      Nope. I dont' care to think about any of what you wrote because it's all your own projection, fuelled by your being triggered by something external and not taking responsibility for it.
      I'm an artist when i write, and if you don't like it, no problem! "This does not resonate with me" – Ok, so move along…

      But if you have the courage to read your last sentence and apply it to yourself, I'm listening.

  13. Vanessa says:

    You've brought tears to my eyes. A different story… but this touched me deeply.

  14. Marci says:

    Thank you for this beautiful essay. I struggle with living fearlessly and owning my own life. I have come far but still have a long journey- thank you for the inspiration!

    • Ben_Ralston says:

      We all struggle with living fearlessly. Or at least, 99.9999% of us who are human. And we're all on a journey… the ones who look like they're 'there' already are just good at fooling everyone (including themselves).

  15. Abigail says:

    Fuck Yeah!!!

  16. marti says:

    while being with someone when they die is a change one never has the chance to do again, that doesn't mean it's the right thing for one to do. your father knows, now, he was not a failure. you heard his words and learned earlier in your life than he did in his, i.e., evolution, not to compromise this life. every generation is a step toward perfection.

  17. pochiluz says:

    Thank you, healing words <3

  18. wrikar says:

    Grab ..horns …wrestle … ground … make love. I know it far from your intention but to my ears that bag of metaphors sounded a bit rapey. Might be just me though.

    • Ben_Ralston says:

      Ok, one at a time:
      Horns – what's 'rapy' about horns?!
      Grab and wrestle and ground – do you really make love without a bit of grabbing and wrestling, or without the ground? Come on.
      And, it's just a metaphor…

  19. Martha says:

    “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.”

    Words I needed today. Thank you.

  20. Sophia says:

    wrikar, it’s not just you. I was going to leave exactly the same remark. Just goes to show, even supposedly “spiritually evolved” guys can be completely clueless about what it is to really make love to a woman.

    • Ben_Ralston says:

      If I'm a supposedly "spiritually evolved" guy it's you who is doing the supposing, no one else as far as I know.
      And, I'll repeat what I said above:
      Ok, one at a time:
      Horns – what's 'rapy' about horns?!
      Grab and wrestle and ground – do you really make love without a bit of grabbing and wrestling, or without the ground, ever!? Come on.
      And, it's just a metaphor…

  21. Shannon says:

    Thank you for this article. It resonated with me deeply and some has to do with my own father. I don't see that comment as rape-y as some have said. I see the wrestling part as more of a wrestle with yourself, wrestling to break away from the constraints that society puts on us and THEN, we can make love to the beautiful life that is hiding underneath all the societal BS.

  22. Lori says:

    Beautiful sentiment….other than that one rape analogy.
    A different word order may have made it a little less so but the way it is, so jarring that it's really the main thing I think of when I"m done…and that's a shame.
    And, before you say it, I have no triggers – it was just an insensitive analogy in my eyes.

  23. goldenmadrona says:

    There Is Only One Way to Succeed In Life

    Thank you for your honesty and vulnerability in this piece, and for getting me in contact with this ache that I live around, that I recognize needs some attention: a flow of words to carry the feeling through me. As someone who has lost both parents now, you've moved me. There's some weight, but a soft landing in deep resonance with what you are acknowledging here, a level of truth so many of us can't bring ourselves to. There is such love in our grief and yes even our regret, and if we let it, it will heal us and teach us what we need to know.

    Like you, I watched a similar light die in my father's eyes as he gradually turned from himself and from life, and perhaps I experienced some of the same complexity, caught up in some dance (or sparring match?) with him I didn't understand. Just when I (thought I) had found some ground and could hold my own with him, he vanished, along with the ground, right before my eyes. He nearly took my mother with him, but she hung on, I suspect, for my sister and I.

    As my sister and I were carried forward by the current of our young lives, my mother's grasp didn't hold. Years later, she too began to recede and fall away. In part, because I had to grow up fast, and in part because of the lessons I'd learned through my Dad's death, I managed to stand in the flow of what remained of life with her, and cared for her as she ebbed away. And while there was much to endure in that flow of moments, there were, and still are, gifts of unexpected hilarity, fierce love, astonishing beauty, and profound truth.

    And for the record, I didn't feel that you meant one needs to "rape" or even conquer, life. To me, it seemed you were referring to the passion required to meet life with life. There are so many ways in which life teaches us to hold her: at times, we clutch hard to her, reflexive when we fear she will slip away, or we throw ourselves against her, wanting her to push back, to dance with us. If we engage, give her some of our weight, invest our strength in her, she will meet us with her own. If we contract, force, or push too hard, the only lesson is loss. If we fall in love with longing for her, at a distance from ourselves, she'll be oblivious, and won't come near. If we meet her at the edge and depth of ourselves, gentled, with our most tender, reverent touch, she responds. It is perhaps those times that are the hardest, and demand the most of us, as you've shared here. And I believe it is those times that open us to life, so deeply rooted within and yet beyond ourselves, to the degree that we receive so much of her, we are made vessels, overflowing. We are sources ourselves.

  24. Stacey says:

    Well written and moving.


  25. Susan says:

    what speaks to me here is fear of regret. I am struggling with my mother right now. She's a miserable person. Seemingly put down by her father all her life (though he's been gone now for over a decade) and no sadness from her when he passed. She has been critical of my appearance all my life and it occurred to me that she's basically bullied me. Unintentionally…I know she loves me and that she doesn't WANT to hurt me, but her words sting and hers is the voice I hear in my head. I have purposely taken space from her to protect myself and my need for healing and also to protect my girls who she openly criticizes as well. Their egos are more fragile than mine and they don't need their grandmother putting them down when they already struggle for a positive identity. I miss her, but I've also felt so much peace not being around her and wondering what hateful thing she'll say next. I don't want her to pass and wish I'd done more, but I do believe that people only change when they want to. I also know that we're not promised tomorrow. I am a very forgiving person…perhaps too forgiving because I've forgiven her over and over and over again just because she's my mom. Help!

  26. Jafar Rehman says:

    This was an amazing post,loved the message.It indeed is very important to live and fight, because that’s how one survives.Sharing this amazing piece with my friends.

  27. Dee says:

    I loved this article, however, my breath caught at your seeming rape metaphor. You said "We have to take life by the horns and wrestle her to the ground and make love to her." I am pretty sure you meant these things "take life by the horns" "wrestle her to the ground" and "make love to her" as three separate things we should do with life, but the way you wrote the sentence kind of glorifies sexual violence. Just sayin'

  28. elizabeth english says:

    My dad is going throughout this right now and there is nothing I can do. it is very painful.

  29. Bennie Boniol says:

    My father wzs born just after the turn of the last century and worked harder than anyone of this century could ever imagine. Became a section foreman for the Rock Island railroad before he turned 21, mastered the art of carpentry, became a very respected farmer and raised a family during the depression and kept (with mother's heip) a viable grocery store. He always had time for his children teaching love and honesty as well as truthfulness as the most important traits in life. When he passed from this life at age 64, the day after I turned 25 it was disbelief on my part that I didn't pay enough attention to his skills. I failed to mention that he was also an accomplished cook having once also owned a sucessful cafe in a small town in the 20ies. Quite to my suprise when I graduated from high school and immediately entered military service, I found some of those old instructions coming to fore. Hehad instilled in me the desire to succed. Whereby by the time I reached the middle 30's in my life I had become a jurneyman in four different crafts. Thankfully I've never been unemployed. Today I am 72 with a beautiful wife of 45 years and 3 fine sons whom I love very much,

  30. 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.

  31. scott says:

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

  32. 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!

  33. Fifi says:

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

  34. 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….

  35. 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.

  36. 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.

  37. 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.

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