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The Gift of Failure

heart & mindset mastery Jan 27, 2020

Oh it’s going to be all right
This is love…this is life
When times get tough and still worth the fight
This is love, this is life
The road here is paved with the brokenhearted
We have gotta finish what we started
Oh we gotta hold on tight
This is love…this is life!”

 - “This is Love, This is Life” Bon Jovi

Failure. That dreaded word. We all experience it probably more often than we wish. That missed promotion or lost job. The divorce…maybe even for the second time. For many of us, when we experience failure we feel like we have a scarlet “F” on our chests and hang our heads in shame and hope to God that no one asks us any questions that will force us to reveal how badly we have messed up.

The Two Worldviews That Failure Reveals

When we fail it reveals something about the worldview that we build our lives on. There are two options:

  1. The Contractual Worldview:

In the contractual worldview, you choose what you want out of life, figure out how to get it and then follow the rules. If you desire B, then do A to get it. For example, you want to get a promotion? Then get this degree, obtain this experience and eventually you will get that promotion.   

  1. The Freedom Worldview:

In the freedom worldview, there is acceptance that bad things happen and that our flaws as well as our dignity are both natural part of our humanity.  There is acceptance of the tension between working hard and the reality is that there are no guarantees.  For example, just because you want a promotion and do all the right things to get it, doesn’t guarantee that you will and if you don’t, there is hope that it all works together for the good.

Most people start at the contractual worldview and this worldview works until it is tested with inevitable failure and suffering.  When it works, we can become proud even if it is disguised as gratitude. But when failure and suffering hits, it creates a crisis – we assume that we simply didn’t follow the principles well enough. We believe that someone or something failed us.

However, the moment that this worldview stops working, an opportunity is created. Failure can be embraced and learned from. Failure can be the greatest opportunity for growth and healing.

The Three Gifts of Failure

There are at least three gifts that are available to you if you stop fighting the fear and shame of failure and embrace this radical perspective.

  1. Self-awareness: When you see all the shaky foundations you build you life on, you can really see who you really are and not whom you wish you can be. Living in this type of truth is the only way that true growth and healing can occur. Pain in the present is the best way to unlock the unresolved pain of the past and to walk out true resolution. Like an orthopedic surgeon has to break an unhealed bone and reset it, pain has the potential to do the same. Knowing where you have incredible dignity and strength as well as your places of weaknesses allows for sober judgment on who you are and authentic self-esteem.

For example, when you go to a hotel, you often get a brochure (either physical or virtual) that paints a picture of that property and its amenities. The problem however, is that many times when you get to the hotel, the picture doesn’t match the brochure. When you have true self-awareness and acceptance, you have the opportunity to lay down presenting an image that doesn’t exist and live in freedom that your life matches the brochure.

  1. Other-awareness: The more in touch you get with your own pain and lay down your false images of who are you, the more you realize your need for relationship. Even more, the better your connections will be with others when you are able to connect with them out of who you really are vs. what you may have projected in the past.

Communities like Alcoholics Anonymous provides the models for what true community can look like.  People in AA don’t pretend that they are not broken. They can help each other out in significant ways because people who are a part of those communities know how to ask for help AND receive help.

  1. Awareness for more: When it falls apart, oftentimes the bigger picture life questions come into play. Questions about what is really important and is there something bigger only are heeded during times of pain and suffering. I believe that the boldest decisions that lead to a more fully engaged and authentic life come on the heels of suffering because what is important and what is not becomes crystal clear.

My father’s death in 2005 was a seminal, life-changing event for me.  I returned from his funeral with a commitment to what I call going to the Land of the Happy, Healthy and Free and a mission to invite others on this same journey. The biggest changes and boldest decisions in my personal and professional life can be tracked to this period of deep pain.

The Bottom-Line

We all hit failure and pain at some points in our personal and work lives. No one has a perfect career where it all goes right. So, when it stops working at work, you have a choice – will you fight the opportunity and try to find a quick resolution to the pain or will you embrace it as a chance for transformation like none other? Will you stay stuck in a Contractual worldview with your false sense of control over the happenings in your personal universe? Or will you join me and others in a journey towards the Land of Happy, Healthy and Free? I guarantee you that this journey will not be easier, in fact it may be harder because your heart will be more alive than it has ever been. But the pain you experience will be the kind of pain that is healing and has hope.

In a 2010 episode of Grey’s Anatomy, neurosurgeon Derek Shepherd performed an extensive and painful surgery on a guy named Greg who had a massive and complicated tumor. After the surgery, Greg panicked as a result of the incredible pain he was in. Derek comforts Greg and his mother by telling them that the pain Greg is experiencing is “healing pain” and “victory pain” because they beat the tumor.

When it stops working at work, there will be pain involved. The essential choice you get to make is if you want the pain to be shame pain of denial or the victory pain of the courageous.

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