I was talking to a friend about the show she gave as a performance artist and telling her how much I admired her bravery in giving such a raw performance. She said that stepping onto the stage was huge for her growth; as a perfectionist, she wanted everything to go perfectly. “I failed… many times,” she said. “But of course, that was my success.” I felt shivers.
That last statement was a big inspiration to me. Suddenly, I saw how often so many of us stop ourselves from doing the thing we love to do, just because we refuse to take the risk of failing. We hold on so strongly to ‘succeeding’ in a certain way, as the only way, so much so that we end up depriving ourselves of seeing our dream manifested.
If you’re feeling stuck, unable to move forward in your dream, it might be interesting to examine whether you are too attached to a certain outcome. Allowing yourself to fail may be just the medicine you need to move closer to your vision.
To break free from this attachment, it helps to understand some of our motivations behind it. Why do we have such a strong insistence on seeing things happen a certain way? What are we frightened of? Is this fear even rational?
I can give you a long list of our fears that prevent us from taking the risk to fail, but it may be more powerful for me to condense it all into this simple truth:
You are attached to your favourite story. Inside you, you have a juicy story loaded with themes of injustice, betrayal, treachery and persecution. Without even realising it most of the time, you are so invested in this story being true that you’ve even betrayed yourself to prove to yourself that this story is true.
What comes out of this is a child-like refusal to be wrong and an insistence on being right. If you watch a child in an argument with another child, you will likely witness his utter commitment to being right, and if the other child disagrees with him it is paired with an utter commitment to make the other wrong. This is exactly how we are when we have a story we are strongly attached to – essentially, we’re in an argument with the world around us, trying to prove that the world is wrong and we are right, even if it means sabotaging the good the world is showing us.
When we look at it objectively this way, it seems insane to be hanging on to our story like this. Yet this is exactly the kind of dynamics we’re playing out on a daily basis. The reason we do this is because this story forms our identity. It helps give us a sense of identity and since we all have a need to know who we are, we hold on to the story we’ve constructed, the story that has thus far given us self-identity, as though we will die without it.
That sense of dying is actually quite literal, for without self-identity, our concept of ourselves would be annihilated. Yet it is an illusion, an untruth. For if we were to take ourselves further away from the story, even if just for a moment, we would be able to see that who we are is way bigger than this identity we have formed based on our favourite story. You can do this through a number of ways, such as meditation and mindfulness practices – basically creating space between you and your story, so that you’re no longer deeply entrenched in the world of the story and you can see the bigger picture.
Giving Up Your Story – Creating a New Story
Loosening the Glue
1. Firstly, explore how your story has served you. What are some of the beliefs you have that make up this story? “If I do this, X will happen.” What do you believe will happen to you? What is the worst you can think of? That is the glue that keeps you invested in your story.
2. Ask yourself, do you want to continue living through this story? It may not be a question you can answer right away. After all, you’d be giving up the familiarity of something that has been at the core of you. To help you answer this, ask yourself these further questions:
Has it supported you in living according to your highest values?
If not, how has it prevented you from fulfilling your deepest desires in life?
What might happen if you gave it up?
What might happen if you didn’t give it up?
Landing on New Territory
3. You might not like some of the answers you came up with. Truth can sometimes hurt. But there’s a way to move forward from here. Ask yourself:
What do you wish is true instead?
Now liberate your mind and flow with your imagination. Allow yourself to go to where your mind might be telling you is an impossibility.
4. Let’s say you came up with a variation of, “When I do this, Y happens instead.”
Consider adopting that as part of your new story.
Building on Your New Story
5. Keep adding elements to your new story, constructing an entirely different paradigm with which to live through from now on. One that carries positive themes of love, abundance and beauty instead.
Living Your New Story
As you loosen your attachment to your old story, create a more empowering one and begin to live it, the intensity around the idea of making a mistake that will have you ridiculed and condemned will be lessened. The fear of failing may still be there, but you’re more willing to take the risk of failing. It feels less like something life-threatening is going to happen, because your new story now forms your self-identity, even if it feels a bit wobbly in the beginning (it’s like wearing a new skin – it takes some getting used to).
You can strengthen your new identity by adopting new perspectives around failure. Rather than seeing failure as bad, consider how failure can be a good thing. Realise that your failure IS success.
Failure is a learning.
Often, we equate failing in one instance to failing completely. Thus, we refuse to allow ourselves to move anywhere close to the possibility of failing. But part of the formula for your success might be failure. Failure may indeed be a criteria for you to achieve the success you want.
We tend to think of failure as a finality. “If I failed this one time, that would be the end of it.” Yet that is a self-sabotaging attitude and approach. You’d only be setting yourself up to fail completely, since most roads to success are paved with a series of failures. We learn from each failure to become wiser, stronger and better, so that the next time we endeavour we’re closer to achieving our goal.
Failure won’t kill you.
When you face up to failure, you take the power away from the idea of it, so that the fear no longer governs your actions and behaviours. It leaves you freer to embark on taking the next step to fulfil your dreams. Once you’ve allowed yourself to fail, you demonstrate to yourself that nobody died in the process. You begin to realise how irrational your fear of failure is. This realisation can free you from the grips of other fears you may have that block you from actualising your highest potential.
Failure can open doors to miracles.
A lot of times, we don’t know what the best is in store for us. We do our best, given what we know, to make decisions which we believe will lead us to where we want to go. But as human beings, we can’t always make the best decisions, and sometimes our goals are in conflict with what our soul wants for us.
That does not mean that we should be afraid to make decisions. I believe there is a natural self-correcting mechanism in us that will always lead us to the right path, even if we make the ‘wrong’ decision. Thus, when you encounter a failure, it may be your soul intervening to guide you back to the path that yields the most happiness for you (Read the post “How Failure Can Lead You To What Your Soul Yearns”).
Therefore, you can celebrate the fact that should you encounter failure, it can mean that you are closer to that place of true happiness. In the aftermath of failure, as you look around you, you might see an opportunity that will delight you with its surprise. But you might not have been able to see it without having gone through the preceding step.