Sometimes you experience failed expectations as heartbreak and disappointment, and sometimes you feel rage. Failure, or things not working out as you’d hoped, doesn’t feel good; that’s for sure.

But maybe instead of labeling yourself a “failure” or a “loser,” or thinking there is something wrong with you, you could get curious about what is going on.

Getting curious about outer circumstances and how they impact you, and noticing what words come out and what your internal discussion is — this is the key. If there is a lot of “I am bad; I am terrible,” notice that and maybe soften up a bit. Instead say, “What am I feeling here? Maybe what is happening here is not that I am a failure — I am just hurting. I am just hurting.”

If you want to be a full, complete human being — if you want to be genuine and hold the fullness of life in your heart — then this is the opportunity for you to get curious about what is going on and listen to the storylines. And don’t buy the storylines that blame it on everybody else. And don’t buy the storylines that blame it on yourself, either.

How many of you have seen the new Beyoncé music video? Track one is called “Pretty Hurts,” and wow, does Beyoncé capture what it’s like to feel like a failure. It is so raw. She puts it all out there, and you figure she must know what it feels like to feel like a failure, even though she is a roaring success and everything is going her way.

Sometimes you can take rawness and vulnerability and turn it into creative poetry, writing, dance, music, song. You can turn it into something that communicates to other people. Artists have done this from the beginning of time.

This is the thing: I have been in this space of feeling like a failure a lot of times — I feel like a pro in this space actually. And I used to be like anybody else when I was in this space. I’d just kind of close down, and there was no awareness or curiosity or anything.

I carried a lot of habitual reactivity of trying to get out of that space of feeling like I had failed. And then, as years went by (and meditation had a big part to play in this), I began to get to the place where I really do become curious when I find myself once again in this space that you can call failing — the kind of raw, visceral feeling of having blown it or failed, or having gotten something wrong, or having hurt someone’s feelings.

And so I can tell you that it is out of this space that real, genuine communication with other people starts to happen because it's a very unguarded, wide-open space where when you look out your eyes (unless you're busy blaming yourself or blaming others), go beyond the blame, and just feel the bleedingness of it — the raw-meat quality of it.

My experience is that it’s from that space that our best part of ourselves comes out. It’s in that space — when we aren’t masking ourselves or trying to make circumstances go away — that our best qualities begin to shine.


Adapted from Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better: Wise Advice for Leaning into the Unknown by Pema Chodron. Copyright © 2015 by Pema Chodron. Published in September 2015 by Sounds True

Photo courtesy of the author


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