Embracing failure

The sentiment is all over the place. Neil Gaiman in his Make Good Art speech: “If you’re making mistakes, it means you’re out there doing something.”

Pema Chödrön, in Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better (Commencement Speech at Naropa University, Boulder, CO, 2014): “I thought if there is one skill that is not stressed very much, but is really needed, it is knowing how to fail well.”

Or maybe, “Crashes are hell, but in the end they’re good for us. A crash means we have failed. We gave it everything we had and we came up short. A crash does not mean we are losers. A crash means we have to grow.” This is from Steven Pressfield’s Do The Work!

Thomas Edison famously said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

And in Leon Logothetis’s Live, Love, Explore, he expounds on this facet: “We were sure that [doing what we wanted to do in life] would lead to certain death. So instead, we lived in fear. We learned to weigh the risks of our lives, to limit our dreams to the expectations and demands of others.”

Obeying fear is a surefire way to accomplish nothing. Seth Godin would call this, “listening to our lizard brain.” But when we take risks, we open up to possibilities that can lead to a life that is full and meaningful. Taking chances allows us to explore and follow our dreams, which will in turn bring us joy and fulfillment. Fear should never be the driving force in our lives.

The fact that there are so many creatives and successful individuals out there telling us that failing is okay is what makes us believe that it is okay. Taking risks, flying towards our fear, will make us not only who we are meant to be, but also awesome.

I apologize if this is quote-heavy, but there is a wonderful passage attributed to Martha Graham: “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost.”

We have one opportunity, as we are now, in this lifetime, to create something. To be something. To be our own unique selves. We should take advantage of this opportunity and create something that will last, something that will make a difference. We should strive to be better versions of ourselves and make a positive impact on the world around us. Let’s take this chance and make something meaningful out of it.

I’ll contradict myself throughout subsequent posts, both saying that all of us are interconnected and the same, and yet unique at the same time. We can still continue to be ourselves and be unique, while also being part of a bigger picture. We can use our individualism and creativity to make something positive and lasting.

I am on, as I believe everyone is on, a journey of discovery. I’ll learn more, and say more, and have thoughts, and be both unique, and yet like everyone. But I also believe that we all have a gift. We all have something special to offer the world. It is our responsibility to find this gift and use it to bring joy and success to our lives and the lives of those around us. We are all possessing of a singular quality that makes us “I”. Maybe we don’t know what it is all the time. But if we’re open to exploring ourselves, and taking the time to discover our uniqueness, it can help us become more confident and secure in our identity. We can learn to appreciate and celebrate who we are and embrace our individual gifts. This can help us to become better people and to lead more fulfilling lives. We can take risks. We can try new things. And if we fail, well…

Fail bigIt means you’re out there doing something.


First, listen

To understand, it is important to listen. To actively engage in your perceptive abilities. Not just hear, but be willing to accept the message.

The Sufi poet and mystic Rumi phrased it this way: “Let this window be your ear. I have lost consciousness many times with longing for your listening silence, and your life-quickening smile.”

Rumi here speaks to a lover, listing five things he must say. Of the five, only the first two really appear applicable, but that is one of the beauties of Rumi – deceptiveness that leads to truth.

If you only read the surface – and not fully accept the message – you miss out on the truth.

This is as important, or more so, when dealing with people as it is when reading poetic Sufism.

Gotta run

Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed.

Every morning a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death.

It doesn’t matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle: when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.

Make better choices

Most of our days are segments into small chunks of choices. To wake up with the alarm or to hit snooze. To have coffee or tea. Eat breakfast or don’t. Healthy or sugary. A morning workout, or prayer, or meditation.

Not even ten minutes into the day, and already a dozen or more choices assail pout mental processors.

If we consider the ability to make decisions as a commodity – a resource that is finite within the scope of one twenty-four hour period – then it makes sense to spend our decision-making currency os frugally and responsibly as possible.

Budgeting for decision-making isn’t much different than budgeting for personal finance. There are some key differences, however, the primary one being that we may be aware of how much decision-making capital that we will have to allocate for a given day.

This “choice capital” isn’t a constant. It is subject to variations based on mood, day, and numerous other factors. Mental strain, restlessness, outside factors weighing upon our mental faculties, and carried-over excess from previous days can also reduce the quality and quantity of our ability to adequately make decisions.

Something our education system does well is showing us how to stagger our usage of choice capital while we’re children. It’s an excellent primer for how to partition our days into chunks of time to allow us to focus on an individual subject. All of our decision-making and attention in the school system are maintained in one course at a time, usually in a block not exceeding ninety minutes.

Not only are we shown how to set aside time to work on one thing, but we’re also taught that overworking one subject won’t produce better results – only mental strain.

That the modern workday isn’t divided as such shows that, while we were once carefully taught, we’ve abdicated the opportunity to segment our own assignments into a system that prioritizes mental clarity and task optimization.

Another factor in the improvement of spending choice-capital is to factor in routines, thereby limiting the need for daily decision-making in unimportant tasks. For instance, meal planning, scheduling exercise blocks, and setting up a general wardrobe scheme are all examples. Rather than waking up and thinking, “What will I eat?”, already knowing let’s you push your brain into its next steps.

Imagine a whole morning where you:

  1. Wake up
  2. Eat (the same thing as yesterday, and you’ll have the same thing tomorrow)
  3. Do your morning practice (work out, make the bed, meditate, write, etc.)
  4. Put on your clothes (Maybe you’ll have Mon-Fri outfits, or a set weekend go-to. Steve Jobs liked jeans and turtlenecks. President Obama had two suit colors, and would alternate each working day)

And there you have it. Two hours of your morning, and not a single ounce of choice capital expended.

Digitizing my life

I’ve been working on decluttering for some time now. It’s amazing how much you can accumulate in a short amount of time.

One way I’m doing that is scanning documents that I don’t physical copies of anymore. It’s a challenge, as I have boxes full of files that, for some reason, I’ve carried around rather than getting rid of.

Another tool is photographing something that I want to remember, but don’t really have a use for. Even actual photographs themselves, as addressed in this post from Courtney Carver.

An empty page

“I saw that my life was a vast glowing empty page and I could do anything I wanted.”
– Jack Kerouac

Life is painted on empty canvas by our own hands. The image or words you leave behind are all that matter, in the end.

Be you. Be weird.

One of my first shows out of college, I was backstage on Sundays with a handheld UHF/VHF television, probably a Sony Watchman, watching football games. At the time I followed the Miami Dolphins with a religious fervor.

I was new to the theatre. I worked in a sports venue and I grew up a fan of Miami. So, it was just something I did.

In the theatre, there are a number of types. The sports fan is among the rarities. Admittedly I don’t follow sports all that much now. Still own a good deal of Dolphins swag, but I couldn’t even tell you who they got in the Draft.

But the thing is, sports or no, theatre or no, it doesn’t matter what you’re in to. You just need to be you. No one else. Be weird. Be yourself.

Usefulness of lists

I go back and forth on lists. As, really, I do with most things. I’ll find lists useful… until I don’t. Right now, with the chores piled up from being gone for three months, I’m operating on list mode.

Recommendations for how to use lists include:

The purpose of listing to-do items is to get it off your mind. According to David Allen, author of Getting Things Done, “…if it’s on your mind, your mind isn’t clear. Anything you consider unfinished in any way must be captured in a trusted system outside your mind, or what I call a collection bucket, that you know you’ll come back to regularly and sort through.”

While I generally find some way to revel in my procrastinations, my to-do list this time around has been getting checkmarks in the completed column. Here’s to keeping it up.

Meditation on failure

It doesn’t matter that we fail from time to time. In fact, we should know failure. That failure creates an opportunity to learn like no other.

If all we had known was success then we aren’t pushing ourselves. We’re doing a disservice to the world that can influence, and a disservice to our own well-being.

Certainly, I have failed. Made decisions that ran counter to my own best interests. I’ve lied, cheated, and stole. I’ve broken laws and misused trusts that were placed in me. For the pain and suffering I’ve caused I am deeply sorry. I hope that in my failure I’ve learned enough to make amends.

And still, it is my desire to do better, to be better. There aren’t many opportunities in life that don’t require the rocking of the boat from time to time. Safe sailing yields no new treasures.

So fail, then. Live openly, live truthfully, and live bravely. You’ll get knocked on your ass from time to time. But all you can do is get up, dust yourself off, and try again.


I worked with a guy who would delete every text message on his phone that didn’t come from his wife. It was an elegant system, in that once the loop was closed, he no longer needed the text message. So het got rid of it.

On the other end of the spectrum, someone like Stephen Wolfram apparently saved basically every scrap of paper he’s ever received, and uses digital backups of all his informational correspondence and projects. It’s databased, and he can basically find just about anything he’s ever worked on, in some form or another.

While I’m at neither extreme, I am defintely closer to Wolfram in the hoarding bits of paper and computer files. I’m nowhere near as technological as he is, but last year I did start scanning documents that I had collected over the years.

This comes up because (while in seclusion), I’ve been cleaning up my computer files some. This time has given me some insight into how I systemize my computer, and my life. Needless to say, it’s been a little messy of late.

But that’s okay! It’s fun to be messy sometimes… as long as you can find what you need.