In her commencement speech at Naropa University, Pema Chödrön explains that if there’s one thing we all need to practice, it’s how to fail well.
When Naropa asked me for the topic of my talk, I decided not to give it to them because I thought if I did, they wouldn’t let me do it! My talk is inspired by a quote from Samuel Beckett that goes like this: “Fail. Fail again. Fail better.” I thought if there is one skill that is not stressed very much but is really needed, it is knowing how to fail well. The fine art of failing.
There is a lot of emphasis on succeeding. And whether we buy the hype or not, we all want to succeed, especially if you consider success as “it works out the way I want it to.” You know it feels good in the gut and in the heart because it worked out. So failing, by that definition, is that it didn’t work out the way you wanted it to.
And failing is what we don’t usually get a lot of preparation for.
I think if there is one thing that prepares you for having some idea of how to work with the rawness of things not working out the way you want them to, it would be contemplative education. You have gotten a lot of instruction and encouragement and support for feeling how things impact you—not just going down the tubes with it but actually taking responsibility for what is happening to you and having some tools about how to work with painful feelings, raw feelings.
So fail, fail again, fail better. It’s how to get good at holding the rawness of vulnerability in your heart.
From Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better, Sounds True, September 2015