When I was growing up, my mother told me, “the only ones who never make mistakes are the ones who don’t try anything.”
I found that incredibly empowering. It wasn’t always easy to remember; when I did remember it, though, it transformed my perception of almost every mess-up into a stepping-stone to my life’s masterpiece, whatever that would be.
As my failures stacked up, I spent a lot of time perplexed: on the one hand, I felt like I was giving life my all – taking risks, going to the places that scared me, and exploring the unknown. On the other hand, it didn’t seem to be amounting to anything glamorous.
I certainly had my moments of collapsing into a heap – sometimes so completely collapsed, it’s a wonder I ever got up again.
At some point, though, I started looking at that stack of failures as an accomplishment. I remembered my mom’s words and thought, wow, I must be kind of brave.
In the yoga tradition, life is measured by number of breaths, not years. I started thinking that perhaps, like breaths, I had to go through a certain number of failures before I would “succeed.”
Actually, more than wishful thinking, this makes practical sense. If you watch a baby learning to walk, you’ll see that there’s a period during which the perseverance to get up and try again is almost guaranteed to be the perseverance to get up and fall again. In other words, falling is practically guaranteed. The legs aren’t yet strong enough, the balance isn’t there – if a baby were aware of these logistical limitations, they might very well collapse into a heap and say to heck with the whole thing.
Similarly, when we are trying and falling, we aren’t yet aware of what parts of us – physical, emotional, mental, spiritual – are not yet strong enough to take the task to completion.
Yet it is by getting up and trying again – even with a guaranteed fail – that we build the muscle to succeed.
Make failure a goal – get as many failures under your belt as possible.
This goes for everything – kicking an addiction, starting a business, building a relationship, making a baby.
Remember, there is a higher self, a Self that exists beyond time and space and is not limited by past and future, that already perceives the future and is guiding you there.
And if that way of looking at it doesn’t resonate for you, try this:
You never know if your next attempt will be the one that pulls you through – or gives you an essential building block to eventually pull through.
This is important to remember in any kind of work. I remember when I was studying with a teacher that used a very experiential method, but during one class, I was too scared to actually participate and asked my teacher if it was ok to just watch.
Frustrated, he finally agreed to let me watch. I felt like a failure, yet too scared to jump in and partake.
The next day, my teacher and I both reflected on what a beneficial experience it had been ~ though I had felt like a failure in the moment, unbeknownst to me, I was learning something essential while observing. And contrary to what I had feared, the next time I showed up for class, I jumped in, ready to go! As it turns out, watching the process had given me the confidence to trust it. Years later, having progressed on that particular path, I still look back on that class as one that gave me the stability I needed to go forward.
Sometimes a failure in one arena can lead to success in another.
A failed career as a restaurant manager can give you the people skills to start your consulting firm.
You never know.
A word here about addictions: just like the baby learning to walk, it needs to hold onto something at first. In the same way, we all have different levels of what we “hold on to” to stay with life, just to wake up every morning and face the day. As long as you stay with the intention to eventually let go of the crutches – because you have the awareness of your deep longing not just to walk, but to fly – you can trust that, little by little, you are building the strength to let them go. And, the more cumbersome these crutches (addictions) feel, the closer you are to being ready to let them go.
Do try to walk without them. Just remember that, if you find yourself unable to pull through, as long as you get back up again, you’ll have used that “failed attempt” to get stronger.
To wrap it up, if you have voices in your head telling you that you’re a failure, nip them in the bud with this Truth: