The challenge of failure

“We learn to…color the inside of the square by scribbling outside the box…we either learn to fail or we fail to learn.” p. xvi

For this second post on Tal Ben-Shahar’s book The Pursuit of Perfect I want to continue the discussion about the uncomfortable topic of failure. What makes talking about failure challenging? I would argue it is because we frequently see failure as something that is personal, permanent and pervasive. When we make failure about the person, we lose our ability to see the impact of the situation or context. When we make failure a permanent state, we neglect to make room for change and growth. When we make failure pervasive, we generalize from a single instance and conclude that the whole is without value. When we see our failures as about us as people, as something we cannot change and something that will seep into every other aspect of our lives, the result is typically paralysis and fear.

“ [A]voiding failure…invests it with much more power than it deserves, the pain associated with the fear of failure is usually more intense than the pain following an actual failure.” p. 21

What can we do to change our relationship with failure?

“Active acceptance is about recognizing things are they are and then choosing the course of action we deem appropriate and worthy of ourselves. It is about recognizing that at every moment in our life we have a choice—to be afraid and yet to act courageously, to feel jealous and yet act benevolently, to accept being human and act with humanity.” p. 57

We can acknowledge that we cannot control the world, only our own behavior. That is, without losing our sense of accountability, we can move to a more realistic position in which our role and the situational constraints are both part of the equation. We can shake off the all-or-none mindset that tells us that one failure means failing forever more and recognize that we live in the now and can make new choices at any point. Moreover, we can court a more flexible attitude to those things that we cannot change and see them as givens with which we need to work rather than limitations that prevent us from taking any action at all.

“We need to accept that we sometimes do not and cannot know. We need to embrace uncertainty in order to feel more comfortable in its presence. Then, once we feel comfortable with our ignorance, we are better prepared to reconstruct our discomfort with the unknown into a sense of awe and wonder. It is about relearning to perceive the world—and our lives—as a miracle unfolding.” p. 222

Let’s get to that scribbling, grateful for all the awe and wonder this world has to offer.


Tal Ben-Shahar. (2009). The Pursuit of Perfect: How to Stop Chasing Perfection and Start Living a Richer, Happier Life. New York: McGraw Hill. Or the 2010 paperback Being Happy: You Don’t Have to Be Perfect to Lead a Richer, Happier Life.

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The Diversity Dividend by Katherine W Hirsh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

The challenge of failure

Extending the gift of love – to ourselves

On Feb 14th many people will be celebrating Valentine’s Day – a day on which we send cards, flowers and chocolates to let the important people in our lives know that we love them. As I reflected on this holiday in light of Hirschfield’s last three chapters – chapter 8 “Learning That You Don’t Have to Disconnect Because You Disagree,” chapter 6 “A Person’s a Person, No Matter How Small: Talking About the Things That Matter Most in the Way That Hurts the Least,” and chapter 10 “Footprints of the Messiah: Turning Our Deepest Dreams into an Everyday Reality” – which focus on staying connected, both to others and to our dreams, it struck me that Valentine’s Day would mean so much more if it were extended.

What if we imagined a celebration that involved giving the gift of love to ourselves and to humanity in general, with a particular emphasis on those parts of ourselves we see as the least valid or likable or those individuals/groups with whom we have fundamental disagreements? It is difficult to truly love another if we don’t cherish our whole selves. I believe that the three quotes below identify the hurdles we face and at the same time suggest ways to surmount them.

Without a level of self-understanding that encompasses our strengths and our inadequacies, it is challenging to step into the shoes of another.

“I began to realize that until I was ready to confront myself, I had no business confronting anyone else–that prayer, whatever else it was, was an exercise in that confrontation with who I was and who I wanted to be.”

p. 195

Without careful scrutiny of the assumptions that underlie our worldview, it is hard to recognize that our evaluations – positive and negative, of self and others – while authentic, are only based on partial information.

“[I]t may be that what you saw was not all that there was to see. It may be that you are confusing honesty and integrity with accuracy and completeness.”

pp. 245-246

Without a willingness to accept that people, ourselves included, make mistakes, it is tough to share feedback in a way that comes from a place of love and makes possible transformation.

“Even when punishment is required, it is designed to change a specific behavior or attitude, not to strip a person of his or her power or independence, or to change who he or she is.”

p. 223

I want to close this entry and this series of Inspiration Shout-Outs with a quote from the final page of the main text of You Don’t Have to Be Wrong for Me to Be Right. The set of questions posed in this quote can be the basis for making every day a day a Valentine’s Day where the expressions of love are directed inward, to yourself, as well as outward, to significant others in your life and to the world more generally.

“In what ways was I the person I most longed to be today? What helped me to get there? In what ways did I fall short? What do I need in my life in order to do better?”

p. 248

Creative Commons License
The Diversity Dividend by Katherine W Hirsh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Extending the gift of love – to ourselves