Four formidable ways of reframing failure

Sometimes I get in a funk that I am not famous; that I’ve chopped and changed. Familiar? Here’s how I talk myself out of summing up too hastily

Reframing failure

Failure is flawed thinking. Laura Eades 2014

I met someone the other day who’d made performances in London in the same theatre/live art circuit I frequented. The theatre door never opened more than a crack, for me, it felt.

It should have been a wonderful point of connection to meet her! But instead I was defensive, discouraged and down on myself. It awakened all the gremlins that go with telling myself I failed.

What’s to be done?

Zenhabits: Failure is “a point of information”

Leo Babauta gives an accurate description of how it feels when you tell yourself you’ve failed. But in his simple, practical way, he offers this compassionate gem for not identifying with the feeling and taking action:

“It’s not a failure of me as a person, just a failure of my method. Which means I need to change my method”.

Karl James: An open mind

I have just read the first half of Karl James’s brilliant (and brand new) book, Say It & Solve It. He talks you through the different tools of conversation. There’s a chapter on Suspension which prompted me to tell myself: “Failure is a conclusion. But you have not yet heard the whole story”.

James’s book is about real workplace conversations, not your internal dialogue, but I think there’s something to borrow from it.

Instead of summing up your whole life, just () your sense of failure and put it to one side. Hold it, (it’s one of the voices), but maintain the possibility that there’s more to listen to than just that voice in your internal conversation. Be curious. And generous to yourself. And open to the space that is available once your ego is on a piece of paper to the right of the blank sheet. And confident, trusting that there’s more to hear yet. And it might be that the failure heralds a breakthrough.

James writes: “Suspending… is the skill to bring to bear when all but the last bit of hope is extinguished. When you’re stuck in a corner. When nothing seems to make sense any more. It takes courage to do sometimes, but that deep inhalation of breath that precedes the radical suggestion or the asking of the “unaskable” question is often the herald to totally new way of thinking. You release the breakthrough that solves the problem. You find the missing piece of the jigsaw or the paradigm change you’ve been struggling to imagine.”

Paul Graham via brainpickings.org: “Prestige …warps your opinions about what you enjoy”

I only just discovered the beautiful Brain Pickings blog, and I’m so glad I did. Maria Popova sets herself a great reading list and digests things for our delectation. She plucks a great selection of quotes from Paul Graham, the founder of Y Combinator, which appease my ego’s ache for fame.

I’d like to think I’m over setting myself the stupid standard to ‘be somebody’. It is not the road to happiness. But from time to time, I find myself comparing myself to people I think have ‘really made it’ and have to reaffirm better ideals for myself: to do what I love, and if possible to seek ways to be generally helpful.

Prestige, says Paul Graham, “causes you to work not on what you like, but on what you’d like to like’.

Sometimes I have doubts about my wiggly life path. I left a journalism job at a prestigious newspaper to… do what? Have a rethink, please myself, draw and write, draft a novel which may never get to second draft, start this blog, be ‘in’ my life and relationships, travel… When I recently saw some of my colleagues had been relocated to Sydney I couldn’t help wondering if I’d made the right decision. Graham offers this analysis that rings very true for me:

“Sometimes jumping from one sort of work to another is a sign of energy, and sometimes it’s a sign of laziness. Are you dropping out, or boldly carving a new path? You often can’t tell yourself. Plenty of people who will later do great things seem to be disappointments early on, when they’re trying to find their niche.”

Steve Jobs: Faith that you’ll find where you’re best placed to be

The idea of failure implies that this is an appropriate moment in life to count up the wins and the wastes of time. But Steve Jobs’s simple anecdote in his speech to graduates about the ostensibly pointless study of calligraphy that he took up when he dropped out of college, and how it came to shape the Mac’s focus on aesthetic and font later on, is a consolation.

Who knows. I wasn’t the theatre sensation that some of my contemporaries are. But who’s to say those skills won’t shape something I do in the future? We spend time calculating how to acquire the skills to be successful. Maybe we should be following our passions and instincts, and having faith that it’ll all come in handy.

“Don’t settle”, warns Steve Jobs. And, of his calligraphy: “You can’t join the dots looking forward”. I think those might become words that are in me.

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Do you sum up your life? What’s a better way of taking stock of where you’re at? Click on the pale grey dot under the blogpost (yeys, the one with the little plus sign) to open the comment thread.

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