The fear of failure is an emotion that knocks on everyone's door at one time or another. I hope this story helps you reconsider failure from a new, more heartfelt perspective.
A woman in her fifties who'd been working as a business professional for a number of years - let's call her "Karen" - came to one of my workshops for the first time. As is my usual style, Karen and I start out talking about various topics, as we wait for the "right" thread of conversation to emerge. I have no idea what the right thread will be, but I'm confident it will present itself, if we engage each other with open hearts and minds.
At some point Karen states she's been doing a lot of meaningless work for quite some time. She says she's been doing the work no one else in her company wanted to do. As a result of this, she says she's lost touch with herself and her dreams. In a very heavy, dark voice she says, "Fifty two years old, and look at me, I'm a failure! A broken marriage, a broken career, and nothing to show for anything."
Her words touch me deeply. I sit back and take a deep breath to help center myself, as I thank her for having the courage to share such a powerful message. "Failure or no failure," I say, "It's very special to be with someone who has the courage to step forth and expose their pain. Courage in the face of perceived failure, is a great triumph of human spirit." I take another deep breath and look around the room some, wanting everyone to know it's OK to gently respond, if they care to.
I look back at Karen and begin to tell her about some of my own failures. I don't have to reach too far, to find some areas of disappointment and disillusionment. Little by little, spontaneously and honestly, most everyone in the room starts sharing their failures as well. Job, marriage, parenthood, friendship, making amends with one's parents before they die... The list grows rather long, rather quickly.
It soon becomes apparent that none of us have been "only successful." At some point I ask the group if anyone would be willing to share their definition of "failure." There is silence, and then Karen, all of a sudden looking somewhat inspired says...
"Failure is when you try to make believe you are someone other than who you are. Failure is when you come to believe there aren't any viable alternatives in life, to the way you've been living. Failure is when you don't share your experience with others because you're convinced it's only you who is suffering, or that somehow all of this madness has happened because something's wrong with you. Failure is feeling you are incapable of finding satisfaction and love."
Still knowing almost nothing about my work at this point, After making her statements, Karen adjusts her posture and further says, "Failure is sitting in a posture like I tend to sit in, and taking that posture out into the world."
Tears began to ebb down Karen's face, and the entire group is touched by Karen's courage and pain. People go from listening with their ears to an experience that was "someone else's," to feeling with their hearts how Karen's words and Karen's sorrow also belong to them.
Such is the power of a supportive, caring community. It transforms "I" into "We"! It is this "we-dentity" that gives us the courage to stand up and face our strongest pain, our greatest fears. The courageous sharing of any one member of the community, can lead to the healing of all who are present.
At such times, "failure" is transformed into a triumph of human spirit.