Philosophy > The Art of Failure

The Art of Failure

Published: October 12, 2010

A few months ago I was talking to one of my hairdressers, yes, one of them. When you have three hairs on your head like me you need a team of folks to make those three hairs look like a dozen with a great cut, perfect color and a set of trick mirrors that would make Siegfried and Roy weep. The young lass I was talking to is my colorist and a self proclaimed perfectionist, she hates making mistakes and not being very good at something the first time she tries it. That makes her reluctant to try new things. The threat of the perceived failure for not being brilliant out of the box holds her back. I know lots of people who feel the same way.

In talking about perfectionism I explained not only did I think “perfect” was unrealistic and pure fiction, it was also dead boring. I went on to say that I was not interested in being perfect, I was quite happy to be beautifully flawed and make mistakes. She asked me how I got to the place of allowing imperfect to happen. I sat there a minute to think about how did I get here? And realized I was more comfortable with failure now than when I was younger. The bottom line is failing doesn’t feel good and it is very uncomfortable. I learned, as I got older that being uncomfortable is part of the learning process. I understand that making a mistake is learning what not to do, and since I love to learn I was making tons of mistakes. The other part of that equation is that I do not define myself by my mistakes, or by my successes, for that matter, those are by-products of learning. I have said this before and truly believe it; the only way to fail at something is to stop trying.

I don’t believe we are defined by our circumstances, but rather by what we choose to do with them. Furthermore, it is not what we say that counts it is what we do. I learned that from an old flame. He told me that it was not what he said or didn’t say that meant something it was what he did. The truth lives in our actions. Our actions are the fruition of our intent. You cannot ‘think’ yourself to success, failure, creativity, passion or destruction… those require action, participation and practice. Not taking action or moving off the mark will prevent you from making a mistake. It will also prevent you from achieving any success or true learning or most importantly high jinks of any kind.

The key to becoming more comfortable with failure is the High Jinks Quotient. Some of you are not familiar with this type of Higher Math. Sure you know Differential Equations, the use of your Bayesian Model Averaging, Limits Sequences and Discrete Dynamical Systems Derivatives not to mention the ever- popular Monkey Donkey vice the Monkey Monty Model. The High Jinks Quotient is more sophisticated and certainly more fun than the above mentioned. The first principal of this equation is to not take yourself, much less life, seriously. It is not like we get out alive. We are here on an adventure, to learn, to grow, to laugh and to explore. If there is fun to be had it can be found anywhere with the right attitude or with a tall, smart-assed redhead.

Here is an example of finding fun anywhere: a few years ago I was in Berlin for the Christmas holidays when my traveling companion and I got the flu. We were so sick we were confined to our flat for days. We had watched all the DVD’s there were, read all we could read, the TV was in German and the stereo locked away. We were too sick for serious fun and games but we both travel with laptops so I challenged him to a game of “Name That Tune.” With the help of U-Tube we played for hours and hours laughing and enjoying ourselves immensely. It is one of my best memories of that trip. How does this relate to failure? Well if he had not been open to losing and getting his butt kicked our day would have sucked. The main principal of fun and finding it everywhere is jumping in regardless of consequences.

So the “jumping in” part of our High Jinks Quotient is especially important when judgment comes in. What if I make a mistake? What if I don’t know what am I doing? What if I look stupid and people laugh and point at me for wearing those mismatched stripy socks… well you get the idea. I ask you “what if” all those things happen? What is the worst-case scenario here? In reality I have felt embarrassed, uncomfortable and stupid many times. I did not die from complications of any of those feelings. Most of the time however something wonderful happened and I always learned something, I laughed at myself for falling over in yoga when my pose went awry. I made someone else laugh and smile when I fumbled, got the wrong answer and then made light of it. When don’t take myself too seriously I teach people that it is ok to make mistakes. By jumping in and trying something new whether it is talking to a stranger and risking social awkwardness or starting a small business venture with one single idea of a better life, I am trusting myself. I am allowing myself to fail and subsequently learn. That is an act of bravery, especially in the beginning. Taking those risks feels good. It feels better than good; it is intoxicating. What we are doing is taking control of our lives. That is a powerful place to live, in the drivers seat.

The High Jinks Quotient gives you the space to allow anything to happen and to go with it, without judgment. So whether it was the fear of farting in yoga during my first class, starting a business based on a belief of making the world a better place or taking my first pole dancing class without medical insurance all these were fraught with anxiety, stupidity and danger. Every time I bang out another article, blog or book I put myself into that uncomfortable spotlight of possible failure. I mean really, if you are going to make a mistake it’s best to have good lighting, I’m ready for my close-up Mr. DeMille


1. chris on October 14, 2010

as always--spot on and beautifully written. you always have such quotable insights! (ie. the last two lines)

i remain...your biggest fan

2. pearhater on October 14, 2010

Well you make a great muse...


3. Wench Power on November 27, 2010

You make me wanna run out and find what I can get into! mwwwhahaha... fart in yoga!

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