November 29, 2015

How to Win Our Failures.

Image is author's own. Photography by Lawrence Zhg

Nothing motivates change more than a crisis.

If you’re at rock bottom right now, it may be hard to take in what I’m about to say. If you’re at rock bottom right now, I’m writing to you. I’m asking that you believe in me – because I’m telling you, with great certainty, that there is another side to all of this. It’s more than seeing the bright side of things because, sometimes, pitch blackness is all there is. Sometimes, there isn’t light. Sometimes, the only light exists in our belief, in our memory, if we remember at all.

“Shame needs three things to grow: secrecy, silence, and judgment.” ~ Brené Brown 

Breathe in deeply. We’re dispelling all three right here, right now.

Exhale and let your breath take out the pain your body has stored against your will. Because you didn’t arrive at this point without pain. It’s not failure if it didn’t hurt. But here, at rock bottom, where we both are, we can heal and rise stronger on our terms. Our very own. Because what remains to be lost?

Nowadays, one can swim in the sea of literature that puts the post-mortem on failure. Samuel Beckett’s quotes have inspired more than “Fail. Fail again. Fail better.” There are concepts like “Fail Faster”, “Fail Forward”, even “fail conferences“. But this is not a love letter to failure. This is not to spit-shine failure. This is a “go f*ck yourself” letter to failure.

This is about harnessing the power of darkness and negative emotions, because with every action, there is an equal or greater reaction—Newton’s Third Law. This is about winning our failures.

Failures, in a world that constantly emphasizes success, can be painfully crippling, debilitating, paralyzing and self-destructing. Sometimes, failures can be so compelling that they consume you, seize you, and that’s a terrible world to live in. It’s a world rife with illness. The best of us are not immune to illness. So we take in how it feels. We register that. We bank it. But can we burn it for fuel?

We can.

“Our strong Zen mind doesn’t help us transcend our illness. It is the other way around: our illness, our human vulnerability, humanizes and deepens our Zen mind.” ~ Norman Fisher, When Illness is our Path, BuddaDharma, Fall 2015

With each failure, we gain and grow, then get better at holding the rawness of vulnerability. If you are mindful, you almost cultivate a temperance to it… In other words, failures humanize us and prime us for something greater, beyond our old confinements. If we won’t let failure break us, our resilience and capacity for taking hits from failure, by default, increase. Our eagerness to rise also increases, and whatever didn’t work for us in the first place will work for us now—because “he or she who is the most capable of being uncomfortable rises the fastest. There is a huge correlation between a capacity for discomfort and wholeheartedness. If you cannot manage discomfort, that sends you barreling into perfectionism, blame, rationalizing—without taking away key learnings” (Brené Brown, Time magazine interview, p88. Sept 21, 2015).

Contrary to conventional interpretations, when we’ve hit rock bottom, we are not left with nothing. We actually have it all. Our vulnerability is at its peak—optimal conditions to dare greatly. When we’ve hit rock bottom, we have nothing else to lose. And having nothing to lose is miles better than having something, anything, on the line. Never have we been more free, or available, for transformation to take place. Failures give us the means and method for such transformations and re-directions. Go anywhere you want, anywhere you like. There’s nothing stopping you.

When you’ve hit rock bottom, failure is no longer an option. So what would you do now, when your only option is up? All that had brought you down, reverse that, and use it to propel you up. You may fall again, but you just might fly… and the sky is yours. Soar.

What would you do if you knew you could not fail?

We are not our failures. They only condition our grace, our tenacity, our power, our courage, and our next rise. And rise we will.


Author: Xiren Wang 

Editor: Caroline Beaton 

Image: Courtesy of the author

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