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  • Writer's pictureTrisha Lord

Succeeding at Failing: A Recipe for Human Refinement

Dear Brave-Hearted Reader,


I wonder which human emotion you would say you find the least easy to be with?  For me, it’s a see-saw between disappointment and shame.  Embarrassment – a close relation to shame – hovers in the mix.  But if I had to choose, I’d say disappointment is probably my emotional nemesis.  I wonder what feeling it is for you? 



This is germane to this month’s newsletter because I am thinking about the importance of failure.


I am aware that my thinking, my world-view, is steeped in the cultural influences to which I’ve been conditioned – let’s call it a Euro-centric, Western mindset situated in a framework of capitalism.  So, of course, I realise as I write, that what I think is relevant may not at all be the case for some people, raised in a different cultural milieu.  Having said that, the paradigm I’ve just shared has stretched far and wide across our globe, infiltrating and changing other cultures to some extent.  So, maybe, my thoughts herein might resonate for people even if their upbringing and conditioning has been significantly different than mine.



What I want to say about failure is going to sound much like a Nike advertisement.  Just do it!  Often.  Get better and better at it.  It sounds like an oxymoron, perhaps – be successful at failing.  Why?  Here are my thoughts on that question:


1. It is an essential ingredient in learning, and even more importantly in learning to learn;

2. It is human, and humanising;

3. It makes for much better leadership – of your own life, and of other people.  In my experience people find it terrifying to be led by perfectionists who never fail.  (Or, more accurately, who hide their failures and cultivate pretense at perfection);

4. It is humbling – and humility is a beautiful human quality to cultivate;

5. It generates resilience – the more you know yourself to be someone who knows how to get back up again, the more confidence you have in yourself;

6. And that helps you to cultivate the courage to step out into new challenges in your life;

7. If you get good at it, you also get good at a host of other really powerful human attributes – genuine apology, vulnerability, empathy, compassion – for self and others, the ability to manage your inner-critic

8. You also get good at problem dissolving (vs. solving – see reference to Russell Ackoff’s speech later on in this newsletter);

9. Failure helps you to be more creative.



It’s a funny thing, but the more I write about it, the more I realise how successful it makes us as human beings if we get good at failing.


But let’s take a look at the flip side.  Because if I thought for one minute that simply reading this newsletter was going to catapult you into a merry dance with failure I would rest my case and sign off here.


I’m a fervent believer in facing what needs facing though. We have been conditioned to avoid failure like the plague.  Instead of cultivating all those beautiful and life-enhancing human attributes mentioned above, it has resulted in us cultivating stupidity and mayhem.


In a recent message to Faculty and Collegiate through one of her thought-provoking Fine Points, Nancy Kline shared a YouTube clip from Russell Ackoff, who was an American organisational theorist, and Professor Emeritus of Management Science at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.  I include it here and hope that if you haven’t already seen it, you can find the 70 minutes to watch it – it is so worthwhile.



Throughout his speech, Ackoff illustrates in one case-study story after another what I think is the dismaying cost of what happens to us because our education system teaches us to succeed at all costs.  And given our parents went through the same system, they join in.  Second-best is not best.  You are worthy because of your achievements.  And in the educational system achievement is measured by reproducing correctly the answers you were taught.




I have suffered, but nothing like as much as they have, the self-esteem crushing impact on my two children, both situated on the Autism spectrum, both ADHD, both dyslexic and both brilliant, bright, clever, funny, wildly intelligent and beautiful human beings, of this spirit-destroying dominance of the point of view that winner takes all and its devastating impact on independent thinking.  Thankfully, while they were still young, I came across the equally brilliant and wildly intelligent work of Nancy Kline.


On Mother’s Day my best gift was a comment my transgender daughter Malaika made over our shared breakfast.  “Thank you for always listening to what I thought, and for trusting me that I could figure things out for myself.”  Malaika spent nearly six years in a relationship with a very damaged young woman.  It wrought havoc on our family life trying to work our way around the consequences of the dysfunction.  At one point, at the end of my tether, talking to her older brother Zach, I’ll never forget him saying “Mally’s not stupid Mum, you just have to trust she’s going to work this out for herself.”


Today I share my home with Mally and her new partner Amy.  Their relationship is a heartwarming treasure to be in the presence of.  They love, laugh and have passionate conversations with each other in an environment of reciprocity and mutuality that teaches me every day.




We have all come through the ending of my marriage to their father, and all of us shared a beautiful meal together to celebrate Amy’s 25th birthday the other day.  And today, for the first time, I wore the hoodie that Michael (Mally and Zach’s dad) brought me back from his trip to Australia with his new girlfriend.  He chose it for me because of my love of dragonflies.  Its message was a beautiful reminder to me that out of failure comes so much growth, life-forward movement, and healing.  Failure is the rich loamy soil of learning to be the best version of ourselves.  Paradoxical it may be, but I am pretty sure that failure is success.




From my Braveheart to yours,

With love

Trisha




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