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Angel Temperance

Reflections on failure

The lovely little rejection note from TED got me thinking on my drive into the office.

Over the last six months, I have accumulated quite an impressive little pile of failures. One or two even qualify as epic, I believe. They span different parts of my life in nice, balanced way

Kind of impressive, really.

I've also had a couple of real scores, real successes.

Of course, one never knows what has happened until months or years down the line: the failure that cut deep at the time could turn out to be the most powerful stroke of good luck, and the shining success might be revealed to have a flimsy, insubstantial core.

You have to sit with a thing for awhile to really know what it means for your life.

So I'll have to watch carefully to get a real sense of whether my successes were truly fortunate, and whether my failures were actually missed opportunities.


I do believe that failures are a necessary part of birthing a success. The first step in learning how to do something is to do it badly, partially, imperfectly.

There is no cure for this.

Unless you are an unconscious competent, with an unacknowledged, pre-existing skill set, you learn to do something new like everyone else: by trial and error. And error is a necessary part of that equation.

So I am looking at my impressive pile of failures, wondering if I should keep an on-my-way list, a list of failures to roll my eyes over when I need proof that I am actually in the process of succeeding at something.

It would be even better if I kept a running evaluation of what I learned from each one, and what I will do differently next time. I could track this all the way from selecting opportunities and qualifying candidates through laying the foundation and building solid personal and professional structures from which to launch my dreams.

Not a bad idea.

I heard a quote once that really caught my ear. It was a piece of advice from someone who said something like, "If I had to do it all over again, I would fail faster, so I could get on to the successes sooner."

I like that.

Maybe I can learn to fail faster and more efficiently, causing less and less harm and enduring less and less pain as I go, until I figure out exactly how to build the successes I want.

And I do believe a new journal has now been born: the failure journal, from which I will learn how to succeed at the things I want to do, and do well.


Hmmmmm, could be.

Thomas Edison

I think it is Thomas Edison who when asked by a reporter about his 100 failed attempts to make the light bulb said he did not fail to make the light bulb 100 times, he discovered 100 ways not to make the light bulb.

No imagine if he had given up after the 99th failure.

I agree, learning how to fail faster and more efficiently and to not get emotionally involved with it would be a great lesson for me as well.

Re: Thomas Edison

This is a good story! Excellent encouragement---thank you. : )

For myself, I am not even going to try not to get emotionally involved. What's the point of the experience if I don't get emotionally involved?

The solution is to remain open to the reality that failures will happen, accept this, do my best each time, and apply myself as enthusiastically to healing and recovery as I do to making the attempt in the first place.

I believe that attempting to shield myself from pain is a dead end. I still do it in an unconscious, knee-jerk fashion, but when I bring my awareness to this I try to stop doing it.

Preventing pain is futile. There will always be painful experiences. However, learning to heal and rebound from them is always useful and always a practical strategy, so that's where I'll put my attention.

Thank you, Tim, for the encouragement!
Not a failure!

Failure is when you stop trying.
: )
Today, as I realize deep in my gut, that I need to truly look for new employment as my second "job", I needed to hear this:

I do believe that failures are a necessary part of birthing a success. The first step in learning how to do something is to do it badly, partially, imperfectly.

I am looking to find employement where I might fail; where I need to learn. I fear failure so much that I have been willing to stay where I am for almost 10 years even though it doesn't challenge me and doesn't pay well. And, yes, it was my route to my degree, but I might have been able to do that elsewhere.

Time to take a deep breath and simply do what I know needs to be done.
Have you been channeling my life? ;)

Fail Fast, Fail Cheap


"Fast, frequent failure is the most reliable path to success."

Also related to the 10,000 hours required for Outliers; you have to have useful feedback from your practice so you can improve.

Re: Fail Fast, Fail Cheap

Well, I have an excellent start!
True enough!

It also helps if you work with them in order to make them into the stuff that fuels future successes elsewhere.
'Fail faster' could also mean accepting the failure sooner instead of continuing to try to succeed at something you're failing at. I'm a pro at that one. Not accepting the failure, that is.
As Dirty Harry said, "Sometimes a (wo)man has got to know h(er)is limits."
I see what you mean. Something to think about...
Hm. I'm thinking of Julia Cameron in 'The Artist's Way', where she says that the universe is profligate. It produces millions of spores and seeds, only some of which take root and grow; it produced how many "evolutionary dead ends" before modern humans got a toe-hold. Her point is that it's necessary to generate many ideas, cast many pieces of bread upon the waters, if you want to see any return.

This is something I've recently begun to understand in my belly. It's been something I've known intellectually for a long time: the more ideas and suggestions you come up with, the more you'll generate; the more avenues you explore, the more likely you are to find a good way home. I've told people this for ages. Now, after saying it for years to other people, it's finally penetrating into my belly, and I'm beginning to believe it's true for me too.

I've been hoarding my seeds, burying the talents that should have been wisely invested in various businesses (I love that the Biblical parable about the measurement of talents, the origin of our use of the word talent), from fear that I have limited resources and "failure" was so unthinkable that I just didn't allow myself to see the Cosmos as living and abundant. Be profligate with your ideas, suggestions, applications for TED, etc. Be wise in choosing those offers which arrive on the incoming tide.
" Be profligate with your ideas, suggestions, applications for TED, etc. Be wise in choosing those offers which arrive on the incoming tide."

It is this that I want to integrate into my being. I want to be profligate in generating possibilities, wise in identifying opportunities that really have the potential to grow in healthy ways and produce long-term happiness, persistent in investing in those particular pathways, and willing and able to walk away from the rest.

That requires a lot of self-mastery, wisdom and clarity. And self-control. But I would like to learn to cultivate it.