Never judge yourself by what you have done. Judge yourself in terms of what you will do. You are not the past. You are the present becoming the future.
— Raymond Charles Barker
I have a bad romance with failure.
We meet every now and then, just when I think I got it “right this time,” and it sneaks up on me, like a sick, unpredictable shadow, trying to destroy everything I thought was unbreakable and sink every titanic I’ve attempted.
But just like all the other monsters in our closet (with Mrs. Fear leading the way), failure is not a thing — it is an irrational and twisted way of misunderstanding reality and underestimating yourself.
Failure is not a fact…it’s a interpretation. It doesn’t technically exist — it’s a ghost, a traitor and a fake. It’s just another mental block, a way our mind punishes us for not being, having or doing all that amazing shit we’re supposed to.
The worst part is that this Sense of Failure we experience is mixed with feelings, rooted in feelings and nurtured by feelings, and even if the rational side of your Mastermind can smell the bullshit, your heart sometimes just doesn’t have a nose.
This is what kills us in the end: the heart. Not the mind. The mind observes, debates, takes sides, objects and fights with words. It’s the heart that has to beat like a warrior through every disappointment and try to push you forward — no matter the weather. The heart is the 5-year old hopeful child who’s never been hurt. And with every new deception, that child gets older.
After my latest major “failure” (more twisted and unexpected than a Woody-Allen-meets-David-Lynch-on-Broadway, with a touch of Alfred Hitchcock stabbing at the end), I am surprised and afraid and secretly proud of my heart. Is this young-old still-beating bird finally getting the idea?
I can’t explain what happened to me… just like I can’t explain the capriciousness of the wind, or how flowers understand when it’s time to bloom, or babies to be born or for a star to die and, a million years light later, carry a lover’s wish on its back… All I know is that, after the initial shock and following realization that yet another titanic in my life was irreversibly sinking — for the first time in 3 decades, I looked at my failure without any blame, expectation, rage or judgement.
Once I let my big missed-take follow its natural course out of my life, a new kind of silent revolution took place inside my chest: I wasn’t sorry, I wasn’t angry, I didn’t even feel pain… All I could see is void. All I could hear is silence.
It was an Anna Karenina moment:
Something magical has happened to me: like a dream when one feels frightened and creepy, and suddenly wakes up to the knowledge that no such terrors exist. I have woken up. (Tolstoy)
It’s not until recently that my mind has been able to catch up with my heart in this respect, put two and two together and finally try to do what she knows best: make some sense of this new taste of failure; understand why I’m okay and why I have stopped strangling myself for every poor decision ever made, and why I can be hurt but not destroyed, tortured but not turned, bothered but not confined by my apparent failures.
As Denis Waitley put it:
Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.
Here are 7 intertwined and often simultaneous lessons that both, my neurons and my bloody aorta seem to agree on. Or fail-proof ways to edit your missed-takes… and be a goddamn phoenix.
I hope you put at least one of these in your heart’s most accessible pocket and pull it out at the exact right moment when your sick Sense of Failure grabs you by the throat.
1. FORGIVE YOURSELF… PLEASE! NOW. AND NOW. AND NOW.
This is probably the most important, most urgent, most burning issue here. Even if your alleged failure was not your fault, your shoulders share the weight.
Hurt is never solitary. Tragedies are always shared. Damage is a game of two (or more). Mistakes are consensual. Everything in life, as long as you live on this planet and breathe the same air and share the same existential plasma with other humans, is a conversation.
Whether you can feel it or not, we are in a consensual love affair with life.
Letting go doesn’t just imply changing your mind, but most importantly, freeing your heart. And that heart cannot be freed, unless you drop the weight of your missed-take.
Nope, not a typo. MISTAKE = MISSED TAKE. You know how many missed takes you need to create a masterpiece? A movie takes months of 16-hour working days, wasted money and resources, hard work, and hundreds of missed takes, in order to produce 2 hours of bliss on your screen (and most films fail at even this).
So if your life is the greatest film you’ll ever star in, with you as the leading actor, then your mistakes are part of the package.
There are a lot of valid reasons NOT to forgive. You can argue with yourself for days and win in every scenario. And there is only one main reason to — and an unreasonable one at that: YOUR JOY.
Blame and guilt are the most vicious parasites of your joy. They feed on you, like invisible zombies, and before you know it, you have become a zombie too. You cannot carry on any kind of revolution — and if you do, your work, life and relationships will suffer — with all this hurt under your skin.
Forgiving is a selfish act before it becomes selfless. It must start with yourself because you are the only one you have any kind of jurisdiction over. You can’t ever give what you haven’t got.
2. PRACTICE INTELLIGENT REGRET.
I’ve always been on the fence about having vs. not having regrets. But something about the notion of NO-REGRETS-I-AM-SO-OVER-IT smells like burned popcorn to me. Really? Wouldn’t you have preferred not to burn it?
Of course I regret it! I regret every single hurt I’ve caused, every poor decision I’ve made, every minute I’ve wasted, every bit of heart I’ve unceremoniously stolen, and every inch of mine I have given away to vampires, every step made out of fear, every theft or every investment in thieves… I even regret my otherwise sick, unhealthy and self-flagellating way of regretting.
The difference between unhealthy vs. intelligent regret is that the former sucks your blood and the latter gives you a blood transfusion. Unhealthy regret springs from self-blame and an unforgiven heart, and it makes you throw up every time you dwell on your missed-takes. Intelligent regret, on the other hand, allows you to go beyond the victim vs. perpetrator mode, and turn into an observer and student of your own experiences, without destroying you in the process.
It allows you to examine your own case, become the detective of your crimes (or those done to you), and it gives you enough wisdom and serenity to learn from these crimes without turning into a serial killer.
So yes, sue me, but I acknowledge and wholeheartedly regret every poor choice that I would never make again, if I were put in the same or similar situation.
Intelligent regret also leaves space for humor. And where there is humor there is a way. Joseph Campbell just texted to remind me:
As you proceed through life, following your own path, birds will shit on you. Don’t bother to brush it off. Getting a comedic view of your situation gives you spiritual distance. Having a sense of humor saves you.
3. YOU WERE NEVER SUPPOSED NOT TO FAIL.
If you are a perfectionist you’ll have a hard time here. I’ve been struggling with this monster for years, and I am still not healed or safe from its claws. Like any other “ism” you can’t get perfectionism out of your system. You are a perf-aholic, and that’s a cross you’ll always have to carry. But you can learn to live with it and have it work for you, instead of becoming a slave of your imaginary perfection.
Perfectionism is a masochistic mind whore. Don’t be the sadist in this story. Don’t get lost in the labyrinth of the would’ve, could’ve, should’ve, it’s a dead-end and losing game.You were never supposed to “know better” than you knew at any given moment. It’s mathematically impossible to be more than what you are right now. So stop saying “I should have known better.” It’s futile, pathetic, unkind to yourself and not substantial.
In that perfect universe you imagine, maybe you should have, could have and fucking would have. But is THIS that universe? So if you happened to be born in this one, then live here and live now. And let that other universe worry about its own perfect constellations.
Plus, scars and imperfections apparently make you more interesting. And why is that, you think? Because no superhero in us comes without a tragic fault in his / her stars. Kryptonite is hot because it connects you to the rest of our suffering world. You get it now. You get what it’s like to be broken. You get how much it hurts to be human. So you can’t help it but regard yourself and everyone you meet with more compassion.
Chris Hardwick said it best:
No human ever became interesting by not failing. The more you fail and recover and improve, the better you are as a person. Ever meet someone who’s always had everything work out for them with zero struggle? They usually have the depth of a puddle. Or they don’t exist.
3. YOU DID YOUR BEST — ALL THE TIME. YOU WROTE THE TRUEST SENTENCE THAT YOU KNOW.
Disclaimer: This point is very hard to prove or test on pathological liars… mostly because they don’t scientifically qualify, since all they are is what they’re not, and their reptilian nature is thus designed to defy all human logic and homo sapiens empathy. If you might be one, contact your physician before you shift to your next shape.
But if you are true and were true to yourself and to others through all your poor decisions, bad choices or whatever other names you want to attach to your self-blame manifesto, then you did your best.
Had you known the earth is not square, perhaps you would have adventured in the search of a new continent sooner. But hey, there is a time to be ignorant and a time to be reborn. Accepting your Dark Ages is a necessary requirement to enter your own Renaissance. You were your truest self at all times. And that is beautiful and whole, and nowhere close to “failing.”
Artists, writers, musicians, creators, doctors, yogis, entrepreneurs… and anyone you would consider an “expert” or “genius” at their craft, work their assess off, from two decades to a whole life of hours and hours and hours and loneliness and work and work and practice and sacrifice and more work, in order to make something — often just “one thing” in a lifetime — worth sharing with the world…
Why wouldn’t this apply to the rest of life, on a larger scale? You don’t come with a manual, do you? You must write it yourself. And to do that, you must first live it.
There is only one way I know how to live: FULLY. TRULY. MADLY. DEEPLY — even when my judgement is temporarily impaired.
A friend helped me realize this a few weeks back when he said to me:
You haven’t failed. Like Hemingway put it, you always ‘wrote the truest sentence that you know.’ So if you bled it all to the best of your ability, how can you blame yourself’?
4. YOU ARE MUCH GREATER THAN YOU THINK.
And I am not saying this to give you a motivational hug or inflate your bruised or broken ego with generalized and unsubstantial self-help. I’m not that touchy feely.
I mean, you’re greater than your mind, greater than your heart, greater than your missed-takes, greater than your dreams, greater than your passion, even greater than your whole life story and smaller stories.
The real you is cosmic consciousness, the universe in constant motion. It is epic, eternal, immortal, true and self-fulfilling. The rest of YOU — the details that have shaped you in this lifetime (most of which have not even consciously been up to you), are circumstantial. 80 years, at the most, if we’re lucky.
Raymond Charles Barker, one of my dead mentors, just called to say:
The larger your understanding of yourself as consciousness, the freer you are of guilt… Your optimism is undisturbed. You have learned from your mistakes, but are not stymied by them. This is the way of progressive order, the way of creative thinking.
So whatever you did or whatever they did to you, try to hang on to that true, unaffected, untouched and infinite part of you. That higher self is what will get you through all of your smaller self’s missed-takes. And that will also fuel you back to joy. However long it takes you to recover, just hold on.
And Joseph Campbell, on the other line:
Find a place inside where there’s joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.
5. IF YOU ARE GOING TO FALL ANYWAY, FALL FROM THE HIGHEST PLACE.
It’s not just about falling 7 times and getting up 8. All cats do that. It’s about climbing higher, and taking a riskier leap, each time. Riskier because with every heartbreak you get to make the call whether your heart will shrink or expand. And if you let it stretch, who knows how big it could become…
Failing greatly is about believing harder each time. Going deeper each time. Loving more each time. The privilege of being multiplied rather than stymied by your failure. Of bearing even more fruit, rather than closing yourself up to life and richer opportunities. The ability to evolve into a higher realm of existence.
To paraphrase Maya Angelou (R.I.P.):
I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it.
Yes, your temporary pain and ego deception is the tax you must pay for this trip… Your password? Always,
Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.
And this is my hardest lessons to date. My heart is still on shrinking mode. I wish there were an app for this. Something I can download in a heartbeat, install it by swallowing, and automatically erase my heart’s memory card and its tendency to judge and fear the future based on the past.
I disagree with the somewhat popular notion to get rid of expectations. Almost like chopping your head off to eliminate a headache. Ummm…no? Dreaming is our highest currency. I think the higher our expectations, the greater the chances that we might, soon enough, savor our dreams.
How could I have big dreams and not expect them to happen? How could I envision any greatness enough to attract it into my life without the hope and wish that it materializes? So sue me again, but I do (still) have some epic expectations. And next to them, these words written in lipstick on my bathroom mirror:
All life is epic. Epic is all of life.
I do want it all and do expect it all and do offer it all. I’ll only pass this way once. So give it to me bloody, or don’t give it at all.
As Woody would have it:
So don’t give up on your epic expectations. Have the courage to expect greatly. And have the strength not to be destroyed by the inevitable detours.
6. TURN YOUR FAILURE INTO ART.
“Movement is the antidote to despair,” said Joan Baez in a quote I’ve tattooed on my forehead (in invisible ink).
I get infuriated when, in the middle of my breakdowns, a more mature enlightened creature pats me on the shoulder with: “Something great will come out of this mess.” Fuck you! I want to shout.
But when the hurricane has passed, I must admit that these enlightened beings are right. Every time I’ve been cracked, a wider, deeper, more mind-blowing kind of revolution has found its way through me.
“It’s only when we lose everything that we are free to do anything…” — Life is the real Fight Club here, bitch.
The most effective way I know how to get over what we lost in the fire, is to create something new out of its ashes. So the deeper you burn, the newer and truer your turn.
Be a creative phoenix, then. Your truth still lives in you and no fire or missed-take can take that away.
If you were right in your ideas before the fall, keep pushing forward. If you were true, keep being true to your call. If you were honest with your truth, continue to build on it. If you were insincere, quick, cowardly, irrational, cruel, careless or untrue, go back to where you first lost heart and if that thing’s still beating somewhere in a dumpster, dive in with all your pretty clothes, pull it back out and eat it. You’re gonna need your true self more than ever.
Whatever you do — make something new. “You can’t walk forward by looking backward,” said Mr. Barker. “You can’t put new wine in old bottles,” said Jesus. “You can’t solve a problem with the same consciousness that created it,” said Einstein.
Turn your failure into something worth failing again for.
“Self-expression is the dominant necessity of human nature,” said William Winter. I agree. So honor it by translating your missed-take into a new creative project that will not just help you mend the old, but actually inspire you to discover a new continent.
Instead of wasting your energy on pointless self-destruction, spend every effort you can make, on reconstruction. It really is your only hope.
Last, but not least…
7. I FUCKING LIVED AND IT WAS BEAUTIFUL.
This is my most recent epitaph. Trying to write it while I’m still alive, so it has time to be fulfilled. The previous one was borrowed from Jack Kerouac: She lived, traveled, blessed, [loved], adventured… and she wasn’t sorry.
And if it’s taken me one failure (a.k.a. missed-take) after another to compose my masterpiece, then blessed be.
What failure continues to teach me is that there is no light at the end, no big aha!, no hallelujah — there is only everyday light (it’s in the small ahas!), and that the brightest light is always ready to break through you with the gentle resolution of a flower growing through what seems like impossible cement.
So, dear failing heart… Don’t just beat the odds. Any heart can do that with a bit of luck. But BE the odds. Being is just a constant and consistent becoming. Survive the darkness. Rephrase the light. Accept. Evolve. Create.
If you are not just into one-night stands with fate but in a love affair with life, then honor yourself enough to believe in that love. And fight for it, no matter what your failures say.
I often wondered, why the cracks? Why can’t we learn without the pain? Can’t light come in another way? Sometimes you are so full of holes and asteroids and cosmic powder, you look more like a galaxy than a person.
I now understand (finally…maybe?) that what gets cracked is not us — at least not our truest, eternal and unbreakable selves — but only our ego’s temporary shell of a self, our false sense of safety, and the mediocre comfort we confuse with the ultimate idea, person, situation or opportunity.
We are supposed to be a goddamn river, not a pond. Flowing and changing is our nature.
So when you let walls steer you from your course and block your flowing, sooner or later your dam breaks. Missed-takes reveal and bring down walls and dams. They force you to take off your dirty clothes and face your truer, naked self. They humble you so you can now go back to being water and honor your all-flowing nature.
Take it from grandpa Edison:
Because when all is said and done, it’s not about the 10,000 ways that haven’t worked out for you (for me)…
It’s about all the ups and downs and life that happens on the battlefield, and light that gets in through the cracks.
It’s about that one way, beautiful, wholesome, unexpected and unraveling way, in which all of your shattered pieces and failed tries and burns and scars and midnight cries will finally come together in the same bittersweet heart symphony you were born hearing.
It’s about that once and always, broken-open kind of way, in which your whole life story will, must, has to work… if you just let it go and let YOU happen.
Searching for other samples of greatness built on failure, I found this:
Recommended reading to lick your wounds into action — the recent rediscovery of this classic has been a thoughtful and ass-kicking Failure Companion for my dreaming and doing.
P.S. from Raymond Charles Barker:
I dare you to think in great terms. I challenge you to dream a great dream. Nothing is impossible to those who decide upon possibility.
How do you deal (or dance) with your missed-takes? Any heart-friendly raw advice to share?
*Featured Image: Bigstock.