Thoughts from Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better by Pema Chodron
Many life changes are brought about by something that feels like failure in the moment. The end of one phase can be incredibly traumatic and terrifying. And yet, these periods of transition open us up to infinite possibility.
Pema Chodron's book Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better: Wise Advise for Leaning into the Unknown gives us a positive lens through which to see our failures, big and small.
Seth Godin says in his Foreword that Pema Chodron helps us see that failure is part of success and that both are essential elements in forward motion. We often think that our purpose in life is "to get all the frogs in a bowl and keep them there [but] as soon as we get a few frogs in the bowl, they jump out, and we have to start all over again." He says that life is an "infinite game" and that although we yearn to find stability, "to go forward is to give up on getting all the frogs in the bowl".
Pema Chodron advises that we get good at "welcoming the unwelcome". Failure feels very raw and there are two common ways of dealing with the rawness: 1) We can blame the failure on somebody else or some external factor. We move away from the rawness by placing blame elsewhere. 2) We feel bad about ourselves and label ourselves "a failure". Clearly, neither of these responses is healthy or productive.
She encourages the reader to get curious about the failure, to dig deep into what happened and what is truly going on for you. James Joyce called mistakes "the portals of discovery" and she expands on this notion to say that "mistakes are the portal to creativity, to learning something new, to having a fresh look on things".
She says that if we can accept and harness the feelings of vulnerability and rawness, turn away from the instinct to numb those feelings, that from that space can come out "best human qualities of bravery, kindness, the ability the really care about each other, the ability to reach out to each other." The act of acceptance is painful and uncomfortable but she advises us to "lean in to the sharp points" and "let the regret pierce you to the heart, and then you can lay it aside so that you don't have to carry it with you for the rest of your life..."
Failing better means using failure as a period of personal discovery and development. It means that "failure becomes a rich and fertile ground instead of just another slap in the face."
The old cliche of "when one door closes, another one opens" invites a passive participation in the world, a perspective of things happening to you. I like Pema Chodron's view of using those hard, door-closing moments for learning, growing and actively re-directing your life to one of those infinite possibilities that await your engagement.