Last time I wrote about the success mindset and why, if you actually want to succeed, it’s not the brightest idea to think about all the potential for failure. If you haven’t read it yet, go check it out.
But before you say anything, let me tell you: there is nothing inherently bad about failure.
Let’s start from the beginning..
What is failure?
Failure refers to the state or condition of not meeting a desirable or intended objective, and may be viewed as the opposite of success.
Yeah, it looks bad.
Nobody likes not meeting a desirable or intended objective, otherwise it definitely wouldn’t be intended, and if it’s desirable, then not meeting it, well.. isn’t.
But what failure is isn’t the problem, what failure entails is.
The consequences of failure
Failure has bad press, most people associate failure with really nasty stuff, such as:
- unfulfilled expectations
- broken promises
- devaluation of one’s self
I’m pretty sure you associate failure with at least part of this list. So you try your best to avoid failure, to the point that, sometimes, it means not trying.
Failure is success!
According to common belief, failure is the opposite of success.. But did you ever think about all the other side-effects of failure:
- learning what to do and what not to do to obtain a certain result
- having new ideas of semi-related or completely unrelated projects
- getting an opportunity to change your path and try something new
- enjoying the journey itself instead of focusing everything on the results
- gaining plain experience
Not that bad anymore, right?
So.. why is it so hard to accept failure?
The judgement of others
How is your social support group? Is it supporting of your entreprises? Or does it want you not to try because of potential failure? or because of potential success?
The difference might be the one between trying and not trying, succeeding in what you want or not.
Some communities value failure more than others, so try to be mindful about what your community expects and how it supports you. If possible you want one that will motivate you to succeed but value failure for what it is: a proof of courage and a beneficial experience.
If your community doesn’t provide what you want and need, either find a new community more accepting of your tries and goals, or, at least, do your best to detach yourself from the comments you might receive.
Your own judgement
Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.
Sir Winston Churchill
While a supporting tribe will definitely help, it is not of much use if you base your self-worth on your successes, or more appropriately, in not failing.
If you want to be happy, to accomplish your goals, you need to fail, and more than that, you need to accept to fail. Bonus points if you “seek” failure by trying anything that you want even if it’s out of your league (for now). But, no points if you deliberately fail at something you want to accomplish, though. Try to experience, learn. And be playful about it all.
Success isn’t the point of life, experience is, and in order to experience, you need to be willing to fail.
What are you willing to risk in order to do and get what you want?
When was the last time you decided it was ok to give up?
Not your dreams, not who you are.
But anything and everything else.
Whatever does not serve you, that you keep because you feel constrained or obliged to.
Your painful relationships, your resentment, the need for power, the pressure to earn and buy more.
Being “a nice person”, doing what you do because it’s what you always did, the labels you mistake for who you are.
The goals forced upon you by your parents, your peers, your friends, your spouse.
The need to please and to conform to what the society expects and wants from you.
Don’t wait until you retire, or until you get that next promotion. Don’t ever wait for permission.
You don’t need an excuse, you don’t need “one last thing” before you can be free.
Choose to be who you want to be. Simply accept to be who you really are.
Give up everything else.
A completely normal to-do list
You probably have had or still have a student loan, a mortgage, or some credit card debt. The concept of a debt is easy to grasp, you borrow something from someone, and you have to give it back, with interests. If you don’t pay it back according to the agreement, you increase the debt, and hence the leverage against you. And if you have too many debts and you can’t pay them all easily, you get overwhelmed, stuck. A debt will keep you in line and working so you can reimburse it.
What do you think of all these things you have to do?
Submit a report by tomorrow, mown the grass, talk to your spouse about the kids’ education, gather the courage to finally ask for a raise or quit your job, read a dozen books to increase your skills, and probably more.
Each time you decide you should do something, whether you actually put it on your To-Do list or not, you make a contract with yourself (or someone else), that says that you will get it done in a reasonable amount of time. As the time goes by and until you fulfill the contract, you feel more and more in debt, and increasingly more stuck with all the items on the list.
These moral contracts might prevent you to plan a week-end trip the same way your financial debts can. You feel bad about yourself for not keeping up enough, so you increase the speed, try to fulfill more of them, so that maybe one day, they’ll all be done and gone.
There is no end
But the truth is, they’ll never be done. Just like your debts will never be completely reimbursed.
Simply because we grow comfortable with the pressure, we know we can go on with a comfortable amount of debt, so when we reduce the amount, we see all the possibilities that open right in front of us: a new TV, a new house, a new hobby, more holidays, some kind of “investment” or golden opportunity that nobody ever thought of.
Can you imagine yourself without debts?
Imagine yourself without any kind of debt, financial or moral, money you owe, or actions you should do for yourself or others. Try it for a minute or two.
You don’t have any debts.
You have done everything on your To-Do list.
If you’re anything like me, you feel free… and fricking scared!
Now that you don’t have any item left to check off your list, you are free to decide what to do, free to create and more.
And it is so overwhelming.
The first unconscious instinct is to try to go back to the previous situation: get more on your plate, start a dozen new projects, buy new stuff, etc. So that, ironically, the situation gets manageable again.
But you’ll keep running in circles.
The only way is to try again, and slowly get comfortable with the freedom.
The important thing to realize is that, while being in any kind of debt puts pressure on you, it also gives you a direction, as you “have to” get out of it, and you do what feels necessary to attain that goal. But being completely out of debt and of things “to do” is also very hard, because it puts you back in control of your actions and your time. Remember that from a very young age, we’ve been taught that parents, teachers, bosses control our time and actions. Even though we aspire to freedom, there is a price to pay.
The stereotype of the artist is someone completely broke, disconnected from the world and unaware of the basic workings of his society.
And in a way, it is true.
When creating, the artist disconnects himself from the debts and influences of the world in order to be completely free to be who he is, not what others expect him to be or to do in order to pay their debts. This freedom is necessary to produce great work of art as the concept of pure creation is disconnected from any feeling of debt to oneself.
If you are “in” the world, and struggling to create, take a look at all your debts, as they might keep you in “debt payment” mode whereas what you need is “free-flowing creation” mode.
Knowledge and action
You cannot act on your debts, unless you are aware of what they are. If you don’t already have a list, make one: write down everything that you feel obliged to do, or that you feel you should do. Anything that makes you feel some kind of guilt or shame if you’re not doing it.
Feel the pressure on you. Realize that whether you think about them or not, the pressure is always there.
Then, in your mind, try to get comfortable with a life without debts. The first time you probably won’t be, so each time you think about your debts, find one thing that’s great about a life without them.
As you review your To-Do list, either abandon the debts and pressure, or establish a plan to reimburse and fulfill them, whether it means talking to your spouse or boss, or hiring someone to paint a wall.
You’ll probably want to do both. Nothing’s stopping you but yourself.
What do you want?
It is a good thing to have lots of possibilities and things that you can do. But it’s better to be able to do them without being pressured too much so you can be open to new possibilities.
There are always new things to put on your list, but isn’t it better when there is nothing on it that prevents you from doing what is really important for you?
If you want to be free of these past debts, it is only up to you, and it starts now. What can you do today to walk on the path of freedom?
Do you believe curiosity is a sin? I’m sure you’ve been told at least once that you should be less curious. But curiosity is a natural quality of every human being.
You were born curious.
Have you ever witnessed a toddler just going around and trying everything they possibly can, without fear of consequences?
It’s beautiful, isn’t it?
If you thought “it’s annoying”, it means you probably unconsciously formed the idea as a kid that if you are too curious, people will stop loving you. And if your parents stop loving you, they might abandon you, and you’ll die (not that fun anymore, right?).
Being curious was a risk.
So you “grew up”.
Adam and Eve
In the Book of Genesis, Adam and Eve are permitted to eat from any tree, but the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, “for on the day you eat of it you shall surely die”. From this point on, two things appear: the desire to know what is unknown and hidden, and the fear of death. While curiosity and fear are deeply linked to each other in the Scripture, as one exists only in relation to the other, they are also antagonist, as fully expressing one means fully suppressing the other.
Ultimately, fear is about avoiding the ultimate divine punishment: death. It is a primal feeling, based on previous experiences, meant as a warning for dangerous situations, which could lead to pain, whether physical or emotional. It is a perfectly valid feeling, as it has helped countless generations of beings stay alive until they can reproduce and ensure the survival of the species.
The problem is that, given our advances in civilization, we are mostly safe from the historical life-threatening dangers.
And in the absence of these, we have moved our fears to more mundane subjects: being rejected by a potential partner or a boss, not having enough money to afford the mortgage or the new car, or even the kid’s education. While they are all perfectly valid concerns, they are far from life-threatening. Given the worse, we could still go a bit closer to the equator and live in a tent on the beach.
Waking up to the sun reflecting on the water is not such a scary thought, is it?
Fear has one major consequence on the body: bring up the fight or fly response, which basically shuts down the part of our brain related to thinking and problem solving.
Let me rephrase that: if you are afraid, you can’t think.
Any high-level brain function is sacrificed in order to increase your chances of survival.
If you don’t resonate with the word fear, replace it with worry or stress, it’s all the same thing. If you’re too stressed, you’ll get stuck and accept whatever promise of relief you can get: sucking up to your boss, your spouse, your kids, a self-proclaimed guru, anything. Which is understandable, because when the stress is overwhelming, you need some help.
Curiosity is a state of free flowing and being. You are emotionally available and craving to explore a new subject or experience. There is no real care for consequences as one relinquishes fear and realizes that nothing really bad will happen, but lots of good things might. When we are curious, we can discover new territories (America?), new talents we didn’t know we had, and simply be willing to do more, learn more, train more, be more.
It’s asking “what if?” and going on a quest to discover the answers. There might be consequences, yes, but the desire of learning is stronger than the fear of potential bad consequences.
The whole learning process, as long as it’s natural and not forced, is based on intrinsic curiosity. This is how we grow, this is how we discover. Whatever new things you discovered in your life, you did so because you were curious enough to be open to them. You could have feared, you could have closed yourself up, but you were curious.
I believe that there is one type of energy, with a definite amount, that you can decide to feed your fear, or your curiosity. That is, if you decide to feed your curiosity, you will have less energy to feed your fear. And on the other hand, if you’re looking for every reason to be afraid of an endeavor, you will crush your curiosity and be miserable.
Once you realize that you’re in control of your energy, you can choose to focus on your fears, or on your curiosity. And if you worry or believe you’re not curious, well, the worry is the fear itself. Let go of it, ask your heart what it wants, and simply follow.
Fear makes one focus on the dangers of an unknown path, and triggers an avoidance mechanism thereby depriving of the experience and pleasure of the activity. It also impairs the ability to learn and integrate new habits and working knowledge. At the end of it, fear prevents creativity.
Being curious, on the contrary, is about feeling free and having the desire to discover new things, to learn how they work and how we relate and feel about them. Curiosity promotes the sharing of information, experiences, social connections, and more.
You can choose
As Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, you can decide for yourself whether you prefer to be stuck and afraid, or free and curious. It might not change your life completely in a day, but if you don’t choose to get unstuck from your fear, it will never change anyway, as you’ll stay in your own knowledge-deprived version of Eden. That’s too bad, because life on Earth is pretty damn interesting…
What steps are you taking to feed your curiosity?
The quest for perfection is admirable, at least in theory, but have you ever wondered what it would really change if you were “perfect”?
The movie Equilibrium shows Libria, a future world without war, without anger, without conflicts. Can you imagine that? Looks like a perfect world.
A world of perfection
Lots of people spend their lives trying to be better, to attain perfection. Some don’t want to show their weaknesses and spend a considerable amount of energy trying to appear perfect, never say the wrong word, nor take too many risks. Being perfect is, in practice, equivalent to making no mistakes. And what’s the easiest way to never make any mistake? Always follow the rules scrupulously, never lead, never challenge anything, be invisible, don’t feel anything.
Follow the rules
When you follow the rules without thinking about them, you just “do your job”, and as you bury your compassion and anger, someday you don’t feel them anymore.
In Libria, after the population was decimated by the Third World War, the world realized that war, hatred, adultery, murder and all the sins of humankind had roots in the capacity to feel, so they decided to suppress it with mandatory drugs. Without the capacity to feel, every human being can be civilized, obeying the rules and wishes of the powers that be.
Following the rules in order to attain perfection means to relinquish our emotions and the connections with ourselves.
Creativity and perfection
Art makes us feel, makes us question what is, and envision what could be. The whole creative process is an insult to perfectionism (aka the inner critic). That’s why art is illegal in Libria, as its only presence makes us question the status quo, the laws and the concept of perfection.
A life of rules and perfection
Some people might be able to live their lives blindly following orders (and even add and follow rules of their own), hoping to be perfect. But not everybody can, and if you’re still reading, I’m sure you can’t. But even if you could, would you really want to? There is a moment in time when rules have to be questioned, and you have to detach yourself from them, if only to reconsider whether you want to follow other people’s rules or make your own. Being a simple cog in a big machine isn’t very fun, or fulfilling.
If you spend your energy trying to be perfect, all you’re gonna do is try to control yourself and your environment, draining your energy and creating a huge load of stress. Those who always want to be perfect, even though they deny it, tend to also want everything around them to be perfect, and they complain when it’s not. Have you ever heard someone (or yourself), complaining about something they have absolutely no control on? Like the weather? It is completely pointless, but the complaint itself shows a need to assert control over these events.
When you let go of control, and accept to feel again what it is to be human, everything changes.
Our natural state is one of creative imperfection
For a baby, the concept of rules doesn’t exist, a baby just want to discover the world, how they can interact and create things that matter and make them feel good. Along the way we learn what rules are, and how to follow them; but most of the time, it is for the sake of society, and of those in control, very rarely for our own gain.
If we stopped trying to be so perfect all the time, we could regain that innocence, that desire to be curious and creative. A perfect human is an imperfect machine. Why would you want to be something you’re not?
The important work of moving the world forward does not wait to be done by perfect men.
Perfection only exists as a fulfillment and strict application of rules. No rules, no perfection. In order to touch perfection, one has to exert extreme control over their actions as to never risk disobeying orders (or what are implicit orders, like following the crowd). Not only is it boring, but it is also a sure way to destroy creativity, put your intuition in a cage and send fun in exile in a galaxy far, far away (where it stays untouched and lonely).
But on the other hand, if you set a goal to be as imperfect as you could be, now you can be real, you can ask questions, wonder what could be, and finally show your genius to the world. You might want to rebel against the system, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. As in Equilibrium, a war against the system might just be what you need to change the status quo. And if there is anything that doesn’t feel right for you in the world, why wouldn’t you want to change it?
You can start right now, if you ask yourself this simple question: how can you imperfect today?
It’s always the same. Your body is there, but your heart longs for something else. You want to belong, but whatever you do, a little something’s not right. If people around don’t reject you, you reject yourself to escape the heavy feeling of disconnection.
Have you ever wondered why you were different?
You tend to question what others take for granted. You challenge the status quo, what’s expected of you, by your parents, your teachers, your peers. Maybe you just look different, think different, feel different. You want to connect with people, but deep inside, you don’t want to compromise who you are.
After years of trying, one day you realize you are The Ugly Duckling, in a family, an environment where you don’t belong.
I know I have.
The Ugly Duckling could swim, but in his community of ducks, he was rejected, he was too ugly, too different. Everything is a matter of perspective, but there, he couldn’t be who he was. He fought it at first, denying the ugly truth, trying to fake his way into this mold, trying to fit in so that the others ducks could accept him as one of their own.
Humans act in the same manner. Being rejected is almost always painful, and sometimes it seems they’re no alternative to choose. It happened to you, almost by magic, one day, the misalignment got too strong. Tired and frustrated with all the efforts you put in that public life, you left your duck “family”, and went on the road, looking for those who would accept you and make you belong. You joined clubs, made new friends, shared different interests, something new clicked, you felt better, but you still weren’t a real match for them (or them for you).
Even though you may be closer to those people, you are still different. It is like you share some parts of you with some people, other parts with other people, but wherever you are, you still are an outsider, out alone in the cold.
After months of trying to keep the water from freezing, in the heart of winter, the Ugly Duckling finally got overwhelmed, and ended up stuck in the ice. This is when a generous man saved him from its fate and brought him home. There, the attention given by his savior’s family was overwhelming, and he got scared. Even though he was accepted into this home, he didn’t belong.
It’s okay to be who you are
Near the end of the story, the Ugly Duckling saw the beautiful swans arriving. Though he knew he was “ugly” and could barely dream of hanging out with them, he followed his heart and tried to engage.
And then it happened.
Instead of being rejected and put to death for his ugliness, he was recognized as the most beautiful swan that ever swum in this lake. He was one of them.
Was he the most beautiful because of what he had to endure to survive and find his way? Or was he born that way? His adventures definitely made him special, if only to us. But it is only when he accepted his difference that he could be whole.
It is okay to be who you are, it is okay to be different. Diversity is the gift of mankind.
Only after you’ve accepted to be who you are, will you attract and recognize the right people. The ones who will bring diversity and love to your life. They will be different, and same as you are. It is from love, deep inside, that we connect with the world and acknowledge we are all one.
How to be different and still connect with others
The common bonding mechanism uses a common interest or characteristics, but that doesn’t work well when one can only worry about their differences. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Here is a little technique that you can use to foster your connections with others using your differences:
- Pick two of your friends or idols. For each one, identify one trait that makes them similar to everybody else (like, having wings), and one that makes them special (like being a very little creature)
- Identify the connections they are able to foster using both these traits. Are they good? Enjoyable? Do they help the world as a whole?
- Do the same for you, while making an emphasis on all the connections you can create using your differences.
- Play with your differences and put them to work towards deeper connections.
If you’re not convinced that this is possible, ask a friend to help you repeat this work for every person on earth until you are.
We are all special, we are all the same. There is nobody like you and you are like everybody else. This is why we all have something special and unique to contribute to the world.
Growing tired of being different is the first step of the journey into the wild. After trying out different homes, comes the time of acceptation of who you are. We are all different, and the more special, the more blessed you are, as you can offer more to the world. You just have to expand your wings and take off.
Our differences are our assets in life, how are you using yours?