Failure: A Spectacular Way to Grow

Failure is such an ugly word, and an outcome to be avoided at all costs. Isn’t it?

It seems that the older we get the fewer risks we want to take. Yet as we consider our own mortality, an urgency takes hold and we realize that if we don’t try now do something we’ve always wanted to do, it’s likely that we never will. This sobering thought can lead to a lot of mental wrestling. Could we succeed? What if we fail? Is it even worth it to try?

Yes.

I recently started reading a book called The Virtues of Failure by Charles Pepin (a French book that, unfortunately has not yet been translated into English). In it, Pepin outlines the many ways in which failure helps us grow. He gives example after example of how those who have accomplished much in their lives (J.K. Rowling, Steve Jobs, Michael Jordan, Thomas Edison and Richard Branson, to name a few), are also those who have failed many times and often on a very grand scale. Each of them points to failure as a necessary part of their future success.

Failure helps us learn.

According to Pepin and all his famous examples, failure is not something to be avoided, but rather it is an indication that we are really living. We are taking chances and putting ourselves out there; and in the process, we are learning more about ourselves and the world we live in.

Failure helps us to learn more quickly and more thoroughly whatever task we are trying to accomplish. By trying and failing and trying again, we quickly absorb what work and what doesn’t, learning the nuances that can lead to greater success. If we aren’t trying and failing, what are we learning?

Failure helps us grow.

Failure helps to build and affirm our character. When everything is going well, our character isn’t tested. We don’t have to see what we’re made of or better yet, what we can become by asking ourselves the tough questions. How do you really feel about your job? Your partner? Your life? Is there a gap between where you are and where you know deep down you need to be?

Failure helps us become more of whom we are meant to be. In failure, we learn that we are stronger and more resilient than we knew. We see new qualities in ourselves and sometimes, new abilities. When life doesn’t come to a halt as a result of a failure, we are encouraged to challenge ourselves further, and to close that gap between who we are on the outside and who we are on the inside.

Failure can help us be a better person.

Failure humbles us and helps us see others with more compassion. We recognize that everyone has known failure at some point in their lives, or they haven’t really lived. More and more, we begin to admire the people who are willing to take a risk in life and see where a new path takes them. We want to help them and help ourselves do the same.

Failure teaches us about reality and shows us we can handle whatever comes our way. We learn that whatever hand has been dealt us is just a circumstance on which we can build the future we want.

Pepin says that if we dare to do anything, we are in fact daring to fail. Whether it is moving to a new community, taking a new job, launching a business, or finally allowing yourself to do the things you’ve dreamed about, whatever they may be – when you step out of your comfort zone, you are risking failure. The risk of failure is not to be feared, though, but embraced as a necessary step toward success.

As Ransom Riggs once famously said, “If you must fail, fail spectacularly!” It’s good advice for every stage in life.

Forty Rooms, Every Woman’s Story of Dreams Deferred

Every so often I read a book that speaks to me directly and stays with me long after the last page has been turned. Inevitably, these books tell one woman’s story that reflects the truths and emotions experienced by all women. Of course, these truths and emotions are probably experienced by everyone (and in fact a male friend who also read this book has said that it spoke to him in the same way) but because I am a woman, I can only tell you about Forty Rooms by Olga Grushin from a woman’s point of view.

The story is told through 40 brief chapters, reflecting 40 rooms inhabited throughout a woman’s life. Through these rooms, we watch this woman grow from an imaginative child who sees her mother sifting through a box of her own memories, and imagines her as a mermaid, into a woman with six children who has pushed aside her dreams of becoming a poet for the sake of raising her family. At some point during her journey, though, she is no longer deferring her dreams for a higher good, but using her daily responsibilities as an excuse to no longer pursue them. At what point did this happen? Was it a conscious decision (nowhere does it seem like it) or just an ongoing postponement that finally eroded her vision? And what does that tell us, the readers, about the consequences of postponing our dreams?

Early on in the story there is a mysterious man who comes to her in her dreams and who questions her and offers her advice. At one point he says, “You can spend your days baking cookies for your offspring, or — as ever through the ages — you can become a madwoman, a nomad, a warrior, a saint. But if you do decide to follow the way of the few, you must remember this: Whenever you come to a fork in the road, always choose the harder path, otherwise the path of least resistance will be chosen for you.”

As the woman moves through adulthood, the reader senses a shift where her path does become chosen for her because she herself has neglected to choose. It is interesting to note also that this woman is a nameless narrator through childhood and young adulthood, but in middle age, when the shift becomes apparent, she begins to call herself “Mrs. Caldwell”, narrating her own story as if “Mrs. Caldwell” is an entity separate from herself. When I reached this part of the story, I have to say I found it genius. This woman had become so removed from herself, that she told her own story as a stranger would!

Forty Rooms has a thread of the surreal or supernatural running through it and this is especially prevalent in the early and later parts of the woman’s life, from her childhood imaginings, to the dream visits of the mysterious man, to the final rooms of her life where her memories and “what-ifs” crowd reality. In the end, I was left with an understanding of how easily a life can slip away if one allows the path of least resistance to be chosen for them, and really, how little time each of us has to realize our dreams in the first place! What a wake-up call!

Few books have stayed with me the way Forty Rooms has, and certainly fewer have motivated me with a sense of positive urgency to take a good look at my life, accept the choices I’ve made, and recognize where and why I may have strayed from my early dreams. The good news? While not a story of redemption for Mrs. Caldwell, it can be for the readers who take her message to heart.