Most of us think it’s a good thing to avoid failure. It’s as if failure is some sort of emotional plague that forever brands you a loser or mediocre. But in her book, “The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are,” Brene Brown addresses the other side of failure, namely the fears, misery and exhaustion associated with a life lived trying for perfection. She writes about her own journey of cultivating wholehearted love and vulnerability in the face of being painfully imperfect. In my personal and professional journey, I identify with the gifts of failure Ms. Brown describes in her book.
Here is my own list of gifts that I believe failure and vulnerability offer, if only we are brave enough to allow for it.
When we come face to face with the parts of our lives we have completely messed up, we receive the opportunity to develop more empathy and compassion for ourselves and others. From your place of perfection, it’s easy to look down your nose at others’ failures. But from the place of imperfection comes compassion – along with your failure comes the opportunity for real connection with others in our fallibility.
I don’t know of anyone who has attained great inward or outward success without failing about 19 billion times. Awareness of your ability to fail breeds humility, which I have always believed is the mark of a truly successful person. Failure allows us to gracefully appreciate our victories when they do come, because we understand firsthand how fickle wins and losses can be.
When we allow ourselves to embrace our failures, mistakes and indignities, we put ourselves in a position to learn lessons not otherwise available to us. It’s not simply that suffering or age leads to wisdom, but that the richness of your human experience in all its forms – including failure! – allows the learning that makes wisdom.
After surviving the horror of a mistake gone totally FAIL, we are also given the opportunity to see how we can navigate and survive the difficult feelings associated with catastrophe. Yes, despite the horror, this is an opportunity. I know we may not enjoy tolerating the difficult feelings that come with failure, but when we pass through these feelings and learn we can survive them, we become less afraid to take calculated and sometimes valuable risks in the future.
This one goes with #4. Too often I hear people tell me that they don’t want to do things they know they aren’t good at. There is no better way to narrow your life, than to limit yourself to doing things you look good doing. When we are afraid to look foolish, we miss out on many of life’s opportunities.
These five qualities are things most of us dream of having in our lives. Only, so many of us go about trying to get them in an exactly counterproductive way: surely with success comes courage and opportunity and the rest! But it’s failure that cultivates these qualities inside of us. If it’s wisdom and compassion and eventually the happiness that comes with fulfillment, consider your mistakes and blunders as much of a gift as your successes.
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Last reviewed: 25 Sep 2013