Failure’s ROI

I follow all kinds of people (and some bots) on Twitter. I read all sorts of blogs and books. I rarely watch TV anymore but I know what happens there. I’m an information omnivore, so I keep a pulse on our culture. I hear the drone of one theme in our modern world: Success. I witness  it when parents talk to their children, when self-help authors pimp their latest books, when social media gurus give their readers variations of the same pep posts. Success! Success! Success!

Here’s a fundamental problem: we all, one way or another, fail to live beyond a few years. That’s a big failure when you think about it, at least from a certain angle.

And living forever in this world isn’t the only thing we fail at. We fail at a great many things. We fail at the things we’ve never experienced. We fail to see truths set in front of our noses. We fail everyday and fail to see those failures.

Our culture’s obsession with success perhaps speaks more about our fears than it does about our ambitions. Why is there such a fear of failure in our culture? Why is it shamed so much in our schools (where it’s sometimes used as a weapon), in our homes, in our workplaces, in our communities, in our media? I think we are paying heavy prices for our failure to experience failure.

You see, if you spend your life without any intimacy with moments of failure, with death, with loss, then you set your life upon a course of disappointment. Our culture’s obsession with success is really an obsession with only one part of our passion-complex: our desire for pleasure, be it the pleasure of pride or accomplishment. But we have other emotions, other spaces we all are born to inhabit: like grief.

It’s important to grieve. We don’t like to talk about death because we don’t know how to grieve. We don’t like to talk about failure because, ultimately, we don’t know how to grieve. A culture, or a person, who spends every moment focused on success never gets to practice grief. As you get older, that grief (which is a garden) dries up unless tended to once in a while.

A healthy culture welcomes grief, clutivates it, and in the process grows successfully. It doesn’t talk about success: it just does what it loves to do, which is to ensure that its members live fully. The ancients, for all of their insane or brutal rituals and habits, cherished things we seem hell-bent to banish. They appreciated the beauty that surrounded them, respected the mystery of existence and were keenly aware of the dangers inherent in life’s turbulent flows. For them grief itself was a gift.

Fast-forward to our evolving world of social media.

We’re all still trying to sort out what it means to live in a streaming, “real-time” state of affairs. One thing we know is that things are getting faster and faster and the rate of acceleration is accelerating. Which is to say, things are more likely to fail than succeed. This is an important thing to know in the 21st Century.

The more you’re willing to face your fear of failure, the better your chances of succeeding at the important things in life. Take a close inventory of your failures and thank them.

Don’t be so brainwashed by our culture’s insistence on success. Our general culture is itself a failure. Which is why it’s so obsessed with success. Be wary of calls to “climb to the top” or “fly high”.

Angels fall fast from the sky. But roots grow deep in darkness.

Tend to your garden of grief. One day, or one long night, you will find yourself alone in that garden and nothing that you accomplished will accompany you in your dark time.

The question you should be asking yourself right now: Will the flowers deep down in my bed of grief be dead when I need them or will they be fresh enough for me to have things to care for?

It’s OK to fail. The universe gives you that permission. Don’t let the Success Fools fool you into being only a half-human.

Being a fully-grown human being takes a lot of failure and grief. Invest in being human. The returns are priceless. Literally.

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