Galen Pearl

Galen Pearl

Galen Pearl

Failing Better

Fail. Fail again. Fail better. ~Samuel Beckett, as quoted by Pema Chodron in the title of her book

I’m very experienced with failing. Most of us are, in one context or another. We don’t like to experience failure. We don’t even like to think about it. So we deny it, reframe it, avoid it, hide it, anything to not face it and feel the pain.

The pain of not facing failure becomes shame. We beat ourselves up with I should haves, I shouldn’t haves, if onlys. We tell ourselves stories with different outcomes. We pretend. And in the process, we lose who we really are. Then we can’t truly connect with others. We are alone. And afraid.

But this is what I’ve found. The more I denied my failures, the more I judged them and rejected them, the more I repeated them. Have you ever tried to unwrap something sealed with that cellophane that sticks to your fingers? You try to throw it away, but it’s still there. You fling your hand towards the trash and think you are rid of it only to see that it jumped to another finger and it’s still there.

Like the clinging cellophane, some failures are annoying. But others live deep in the dungeons of our soul. The failures that haunt me the most are the ones where I let someone down, or let myself down, when I wasn’t the best person I could be. This is especially true where my children are concerned. Is there a parent out there who doesn’t cringe at the memory of some way that they failed their children? There are still things that I have a hard time admitting.

Years ago, when I would bemoan something I had done, something I felt embarrassed about, something that I wish I had done better or at least differently, my therapist would say, “Welcome to the human race.” I never liked her at those moments, and being part of the human race was not at all comforting or appealing.

But over time, I began to accept or to at least acknowledge some of the ways I have failed. I could sometimes soothe the shame with compassion. I even admitted a few of my shortcomings to others. Lo and behold, instead of shock and rejection, I discovered I was in good company.

I’m a little more gentle with myself these days. They say charity begins at home. When I can find compassion for myself, it’s easier to find it for others. Once, when I was frustrated with my son’s autistic behavior, someone said, “Perhaps he’s doing the best he can.” She was right. He was. And in my struggle, perhaps I was doing the best I could.

Perhaps we all are. We will have successes and failures. And the failures will sometimes hurt. We might not be able to avoid failure. But with some compassion, forgiveness, and patience, we can fail better. Life will undoubtedly offer us many opportunities to practice!

Invest in loss. ~martial arts practice mantra attributed to Cheng Man-Ching

6 thoughts on “Failing Better”

  1. Your last paragraph says it all! We are going to have successes and failures and it will hurt. In retrospect we almost always grow from these experiences and it is where we learn compassion, forgiveness. patience and etc. It's all about learning these attributes in the midst of life's experiences. That's why we are here and that is what will help us find our way back into the presence of our loving Heavenly Father. Always, enjoy your thoughts and I loved this one! Hugs~

  2. You said it best, LeAnn–learning these attributes in the midst of life's experiences…to help us find our way back…. I love the image of returning home.

  3. No, our failures are never fun, Galen, but in my over-thirty-year walk with God, I've slowly learned to learn from them, ask for His forgiveness, and learned to forgive myself.
    "Welcome to the human race" nails it. We are imperfect, and we will fail, but there is redemption and hope. We can trust that God is perfecting us, even, and perhaps especially, when we fail.

  4. Learning to forgive yourself is a key piece, as you say, Martha. And learning from our failures. As someone said, cracks are where the light can shine through. Thanks for commenting.

  5. Therapists are into radical self-acceptance. Here's a probably untenable proposition: Those 'failures' are more like getting a C+. You had decent intent and some motivation, meant well and tried. Maybe the possibility of trying better and seeing room for improvement is not conditioned on seeing the first try (tries) as failure. We can just always do better.

  6. I like your perspective. We can look at it as doing the best we can at that moment.

    In another context, I think of our efforts to put into words what is beyond words. How do we think about or discuss what is beyond thought and words? But until we transcend the need for speech (!), words come in handy. I heard one person say that his goal was to "fail well." I like that.

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