Embracing Failure

A few weeks ago, our minister was welcoming a new baby into the congregation.  He asked us all to help this child fail safely.  What a great concept.

This fit so perfectly with one of my pet issues: the importance of nurturing compassion for oneself.  It reminded me of a sermon I heard about a dozen years ago on how we should all take a couple of weeks off from self-improvement.  How healing and kind; so different from the usual self-flagellation we humans practice.

I began to wonder what would happen if we were re-wired to think that failure was healthy, useful, and a welcome part of life?  What if we actually thought there’s no such thing as failure?  Of course, we can fail to stop at a red light, fail to remember someone’s birthday, or fail an exam; but, I am referring to all those other experiences we deem failures that are opportunities to learn and grow.

How could there be no real failure?  If we decide to view every mistake as contributing to our highest good.  If we embrace each as an opportunity to expand our consciousness, and our awareness of our impact on the world.

I can’t tell you how many times people in the throes of a break-up tell me they failed at keeping their marriage afloat.  First of all, it’s not a one-person deal.  Whatever the issues, it takes two to have them.  Of course, there are certain situations: lying, addictions, and criminal behavior, to name a few, that tip the scales; but, I can’t think of relationship in which there isn’t some measure of shared responsibility.  It may be 90-10 and not 50-50, but each of us contributes to the demise of a partnership. Second, maybe ending a marriage whose time has come is really a success? (How one ends it is a different story, as most marriages bite the dust amid ugly sparring matches between people who once claimed to love each other.

In our culture, where the notion of failure is tantamount to worthlessness, welcoming our mistakes is a radical concept.  But, if we see our failures as gifts we can move into greater self-awareness, self-acceptance, and behavioral change. Here’s a thought: if it’s generally believed that we grow through our failures and not our successes; perhaps, our failures should more aptly be called our successes, and vice-versa?  Aren’t what we now call failures the building blocks of wisdom and perspective?

Our language powerfully shapes our sense of who we are and how we fit into the grand scheme of things.  The word failure is so fraught with negative connotations.  I propose we shun it altogether. While we’re at it, let’s get rid of the word mistake. How many failures are secret chances to see the world, especially our own little corner of it, differently? And, how many mistakes are times we were less thoughtful or considerate of others?  Of course, we may mistakenly forget to turn off the oven, but those aren’t the mistakes to which I am referring. What would it be like if we limited our use of the word to times when we erroneously added two and two and came up with five? That’s a mistake.

As we deepen our compassion for ourselves we accept our human fallibility as a present from the universe. It helps us develop more patience and compassion for others, as well as some humility. Never a bad thing.

We are faced with a choice: do we want to conceptualize life in negative terms, like failures and mistakes, or positively, by thinking everything is an opportunity for personal development?  I am pretty confident the world would be a very different place if we re-framed our failures and mistakes as little bits of grace.

Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

Posted in

Nicole Urdang

Nicole S. Urdang, M.S., NCC, DHM is a Holistic Psychotherapist in Buffalo, NY. She holds a New York state license in mental health counseling and a doctorate in homeopathic medicine from the British Institute of Homeopathy.