Embracing the Rupture

Pandemic Portal

The COVID pandemic is likely to be one of the most dramatic periods of “failing” – failing health, failing lives, failing business, failing welfare – that many of us will ever experience in our lives. And yet, Arundhati Roy’s piece ‘The Pandemic is a Portal” tells us that even in this tragic failure, there are aspects to embrace (thanks Steve):

  • “Whatever it is, coronavirus has made the mighty kneel and brought the world to a halt like nothing else could. Our minds are still racing back and forth, longing for a return to ‘normality’, trying to stitch our future to our past and refusing to acknowledge the rupture. But the rupture exists. And in the midst of this terrible despair, it offers us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves. Nothing could be worse than a return to normality. Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”

With the never-ending lock-downs, we are all certainly getting the opportunity for stepping outside both the frenzy and routine of daily living and reflect on new approaches and possibilities in the aftermath of this troublesome period.

Embracing Dreams


  • Rudy: “But I’ve come to realize that God made some people out to be football players and that I’m not one of them.”
  • Ara Parseghian: “I wish God would put your heart in some of my players bodies.”

If you are having football withdrawal missing the traditional Turkey Day Homecoming games at your local high school today, then I recommend curling up on the sofa to watch the feel-good classic, “Rudy”. If “The Blind Side” is the quintessential gridiron film about leadership and management, “Rudy” is its equal for the theme of embracing failure.

  • ·Ever since I was a kid I wanted to go to school here. And ever since I was a kid everyone around me said it couldn’t be done. I always listened to them.”

One of the sub-themes I’ve explored in embracing failure is the death of dreams. “Rudy” is like a horror film from this perspective as his dream is regularly assaulted and beaten for two straight hours. But like a good cinematic hero, it never really dies. And throughout the ordeal, the conundrum of when to pursue a dream and when to let it go is vividly portrayed.

  • “Chasing a dream causes you and everyone around you heartache.” – Rudy’s Dad
  • “Having dreams is what makes life tolerable.” – Rudy’s best friend’s Dad

The finale seems to put the “Hail Mary Full of Grace” into a Hail Mary pass to secure victory for his dream. But the key to his triumph is really in the adaptability of his dreaming and finding appreciation in what he can achieve. As his groundskeeper boss, Fortune, admonishes him:

  • You’re 5 foot nothin’, 100 and nothin’, and you have barely a speck of athletic ability. And you hung in there with the best college football players in the land for 2 years. And you’re gonna walk outta here with a degree from the University of Notre Dame. In this life, you don’t have to prove nothin’ to nobody but yourself. And after what you’ve gone through, if you haven’t done that by now, it ain’t gonna never happen. Now go on back.”

Fortune is just one of a massive squad of characters who support Rudy with a thousand small kindnesses in his brutal odyssey. His childhood mate Pete (whose support is exemplified by his gift of a “Notre Dame” jacket literally worn by Rudy the entire film), his college friend D-Bob tutoring him, the groundskeeper Fortune hiring and lodging him, Father Cavanaugh guiding and lobbying for him, even the parking lot attendant who helps him with his ridiculous request as a ridiculous hour. All the way to the stirring finale with the entire squad supporting him (later building to an entire stadium):

  • Steele: I want Rudy to dress in my place Coach. He deserves it.
  • Dan Devine: Don’t be ridiculous, Georgia Tech is one of the top offensive teams in the country. You are an All-American and our Captain, act like it!
  • · Steele: I believe I am. [lays his jersey down on Devine’s desk and walks out]

As this blog underscores, it is no surprising that such an embrace of failure touches on some powerful leadership lessons as well. Those familiar with the Blanchard Model of Leadership will be familiar with his often overlooked “Supporting Leader” persona. While the story is ostensibly about the all pressures against Rudy in pursuing his dream, in actuality the cast is a collection of people who show leadership through support. But the paragon of demonstrating supportive leadership comes from none other than the protagonist himself:

  • Mateus: Do you understand that if you don’t cool it out there you’re going to get yourself killed?
  • Rudy: If I cool it out there, then I won’t be helping you guys win next week’s game. Got it?

In the end, while his performance on the field is a nearly non-stop litany of failure, it is his spirit in embracing that failure that has more of a legendary impact on the team and the university than any spectacular catch, tackle or run:

  • Jamie O’Hara: Last practice of the season and this asshole thinks it’s the Super Bowl! [referring to Rudy’s energetic work in practice]
  • · Ara Parseghian: You just summed up your entire sorry career here in one sentence! If you had a tenth of the heart of [Rudy] Ruettiger, you’d have made All-American by now! As it is, you just went from third team to the prep team! Get out of here!”

If the spirit of embracing failure is getting up…with gusto…every time you get knocked down, then Rudy is its patron saint.

Embracing the Bad Place

  • Mortality offers meaning to our lives.”

The series “The Good Place” doesn’t just embrace death but makes it the subject of its entire 4 season hit series. At first it might seem like the backdrop of heaven (aka “The Good Place”) might be blissful, but the twists and turns of the plot reveal as much complexity in the after-life as life itself. In the end, the moral of the story is that even immortality has its drawbacks…to be embraced.

A thoroughly inspired and fun romp, “The Good Place” reaches one of its finest moments when it embraced its own mortality as series. Rather than milk the audience’s enthusiasm and the characters’ personas, it decided to embrace the end and nobly drop the curtain when the story had run its course. As the Slate article “The Two Philosophers Who Cameoed in the Good Place Finale on What They Made of Its Ending” noted: “[The finale] seems as much an argument about television as it is about morality: Better a good ending on your own terms than dragging things out until they’re dulled by repetition.”

The entire series is ostensibly about death, but the finale treats the topic with a bit more poignancy. The “Heaven” of the final episode is a place where failure has been removed completely from existence. And that seems to be its downfall. The moral of the story is that if such a Heaven did exist, people would fail to want to be there.

  • If you live forever, then ethics don’t matter to you because basically there’s no consequences for your actions. You tell a lie? Who cares? Wait a few trillion years…the guilt will fade.” – Chedi

Another pervasive theme throughout the show’s run has also been embracing the failure of knowing. That intellectual humility, personified by the character Chedi, is underscored in the finale with several skeptical reflections. If there is one question that is so ultimately unknowable it is “what happens when you die?” (you can believe various things, but you can’t ‘know’ it).

  • That’s what makes [life] special. I won’t exactly know what’s going to happen after I die. Nothing more human than that.” – Michael
  • The wave returns to the ocean. What the ocean does with the water after that is anyone’s guess…The true joy is in the mystery.” – Chedi

It’s not just the big questions that merit “unknowing”, but it is also the mundane things. Like how to play a guitar. The final episode opens with the character Michael’s (played by Ted Danson) “attempt number 803 of my new project…” The all-knowing and all-powerful assistant Janet offers “a magic guitar that plays the notes for you? It’s the number one request for men over 50 who gotten in here.” But Michael declines saying, “No! the whole point is to figure out how to do stuff without after-life magic.” Later in the episode, Eleanor comments on Michael’s transformation from demon to human commenting on how he is getting on:

  • He’s messing up. And trying again. And messing up again. And then getting things wrong. Andf then trying to make them right. That’s what everyone does.”

For a superb, post-finale commentary, check out The Take’s review “The Good Place, Ending Explained – What Happens After?” (below).

Entrepreneurial Quitting

Dilbert - quitting

  • I knew a guy with passion to be a pro golfer and the brain to be a great accountant. He followed his passion. He’s homeless now.” – Scott Adams (tweet)

Some people just don’t know when to quit (especially some prominent politicians).

Entrepreneurship has romanticised failure like it is some ceremonial hazing from which you emerge a bit bruised or maybe humiliated but inducted into the fraternity of successful business leaders. You don’t get too many articles regaling the hospitalisations and virtual deaths of this failure ritual. One rare account is Ali Mese’s piece “How quitting my corporate job for my startup dream f*cked my life up”.

He asks some critical questions for those who choose to embrace the failure so indelibly imbued in entrepreneurship…

  1. Are you ready for the social pressure? (echoes of “Nobody Cares – Population 6 Billion”)
  2. Are you single or do you have an extremely supportive partner?
  3. Do you have enough cash to last at least a year?
  4. Are you ready to sleep only few hours a day?
  5. How do you define success?

Mese goes on to observe:

  • “As if the social pressure and loneliness were not enough, I was meeting the mother of all stresses: running out of cash much faster than I had imagined. This was killing my productivity and ability to make proper decisions. I was panicking and rushing to be successful and to make money.”

Yes, entrepreneurship is a great classroom for the lessons of embracing failure. But sometimes, graduating with honours means dropping out altogether.

Embracing Quitting

Seth Godin - quitter

Knowing when you’re beat…

And, of course, what the entire world is watching at the moment…knowing when to give a concession speech. The peaceful exchange of power is often cited as one of the most critical functions of a healthy society. President Trump seems to admire and follow many things from Russia. Still, it is a bit ironic looking to Soviet Union for a role demonstration of democracy for the USA to emulate.

A rare interview with Mikhail Gorbachev by BBC’s Steve Rosenberg recounts the disintegration of the Soviet Union 25 years ago today where the Soviet leader reflected:

  • “We were well on the way to a civil war and I wanted to avoid that. A split in society and a struggle in a country like ours, overflowing with weapons, including nuclear ones, could have left so many people dead and caused such destruction. I could not let that happen just to cling on to power. Stepping down was my victory."

Many people are looking forward to Trump’s own “victory” speech in this vein.

False Findings

Dilbert - history of science

Tom Scott shouldn’t feel too bad about his findings as false finding are the stock and staple of the entire domain of science. In fact, the post “Why all research findings are false” by the “Devil’s Neuroscientist explores this in depth:

  • Science never proves anything. You may read in the popular media about how scientists ‘discovered’ this or that, how they’ve shown certain things, or how certain things we believe turn out to be untrue. But this is just common parlance for describing what scientists actually do: they formulate hypotheses, try to test them by experiments, interpret their observations, and use them to come up with better hypotheses. Actually, and quite relevant to the discussion about preregistration, this process frequently doesn’t start with the formulation of hypotheses but with making chance observations. So a more succinct description of a scientist’s work is this: we observe the world and try to explain it.”
  • Science is always wrong – This analogy highlights why the fear of incorrect conclusions and false positives that has germinated in recent scientific discourse is irrational and misguided. I may have many crises but reproducibility isn’t one of them. Science is always wrong. It is doomed to always chase a deeper truth without any hope of ever reaching it. This may sound bleak but it truly isn’t. Being wrong is inherent to the process. This is what makes science exciting.”

His analysis provides a very thorough illustration of not just the tenet that “Correlation is not Causality”, but the general limitations of using statistical analysis (“Just like science at large, statistics never prove anything, except perhaps for the rare situations where something is either impossible or certain – which typically renders statistical tests redundant.”).

Sadly, in our current times when “science” has never been so vital to our welfare, a surging number of “science deniers” are turning their backs on this discipline. Typically, spurred by charlatans who’s mischief is refuted or exposed by science, one of the most prominent rhetorical trick these huckster use is to point to science’s own admission of its fallibility. A specific failing identified in science does not make all science a failure (throwing the baby out with the bath water). The logical fallacy they are plying is “false equivalence”. Science is embrace of incompleteness and inaccuracy might surface many specific failings, but the overall effect is to make science stronger not weaker.

Researching Failure


  • According to everyone I talked to in the town, that’s wrong. My research was wrong, news articles are wrong, Wikipedia is wrong.” – Tom Scott

Sometimes the things needing rejection are your assumptions and even data. Tom Scott’s YouTube channel is focused on thorough research to understand the intricacies of often overlooked aspects of life. His piece on Coober Pedy is a sterling illustration of the pitfalls of how even when researching diligently with cited sources, one can still get it wrong.

This story doesn’t mean that *all* news is wrong. It is just a cautionary tale as to the immense difficulties of finding out the true facts behind even the simplest of stories.

Embracing Rejection Revisited


· Sometimes rejection is redirection – Maya Angelou

It turns out that I’ve posted so much about rejection, that I’ve now added a tag for it. The latest insight come Seth Godin’s post “Rejection (and the four paths) which prescribes how to embrace rejection. First, he outlines 4 possible “paths”…

  1. Take it personally.
  2. Maybe wrong place/time/person.
  3. Maybe underprepared.
  4. Assume that whoever turns you down, ignores you or disagrees with you is a dolt. Learn nothing and persist.

Then, he observes…

  • · “In my experience, paths two and three are the most likely to get you where you’re going. It takes grit and resilience to avoid the first path, and the fourth path is reserved for megalomaniacs, bullies and the terminally frustrated.”

Embracing Rejects

Football is back this week, and around here it is literally coming home. Our local team (really local… our house sits right at the top of the hill behind the “stadium” pictured above), the Wycombe Wanderers, were sitting down in League Two (in English football, that is the 4th level down after Premiership, Championship and League One…that’s 68 teams above you at least) as recently as 2013. I watched the horror of the “Chairboys” (Wycombe is historically famous for being a manufacturing centre for chairs) lost their lead in the final minutes of a playoff which would have promoted them. Such a setback (as well as many other misfortunes to befall them) might have been the death knell for many an organization. But the Wembley curse was erased with their playoff win this year promoting them to the Championship league of English football (probably the closest equivalent in similar stature is AAA Minor League baseball in the USA…not the majors, but serious and supported professional competition).

One of the ingredients of their success was embracing veteran players that other teams passed over for failing to be young enough or healthy enough. A band of footballing journeymen whose fairy tale season could be produced into a Disney movie of “Bad News Bears” meets “The Expendibles”. The BBC describes their embrace of these rejects:

Wycombe Wanderers: The ‘rejects’ behind their rise to the Championship

  • Wycombe Wanderers start their first ever Championship campaign on Saturday after overcoming financial troubles and proving everyone wrong to win promotion from the third tier. But what are the insights behind one of the best underdog stories in English football?… While undoubtedly partly down to financial restraints, the club – spearheaded by long-serving boss Ainsworth – give chances to players who perhaps felt they had reached the end of the road, and make it work time and time again…’I’d say a good 75% of our squad could write a book on their lives – not just inside football but outside of football – you’re talking gritty things that most people would take to the grave.’…’I don’t know of any bigger feat in English football history than what we’ve achieved,’ Charles told BBC Sport…’A lot of the lads here are rejects. They come here after falling out of love with the game and being mistreated somewhere,’ he said. ‘But the first day you walk through those doors you start to fall in love with football again.’…’They’re going to hate us in the Championship because we’re happy when things aren’t going well and when things are going well’.”

Wycombe Wanderers failure

Minding Failure

Mindfulness Day today. And failure is something to be plenty mindful of…in a good way. As Leticia Gasca compellingly articulates in her TED Salon talk “Don’t Fail Fast – Fail Mindfully” (thanks Mom):

  • “I realized that sharing your failures makes you stronger, not weaker. And being open to my vulnerability helped me connect with others in a deeper and more meaningful way and embrace life lessons I wouldn’t have learned previously. As a consequence of this experience of sharing stories of businesses that didn’t work, we decided to create a platform of events to help others share their failure stories. And we called it Fuckup Nights.”
  • ·”On the night we invented Fuckup Nights, we never imagined that the movement would grow this big. We are in 80 countries now. In that moment, our only intention was to put the topic of failure on the table. To help our friends see that failure is something we must talk about. It is not a cause of humiliation, as it used to be in the past, or a cause of celebration, as some people say. In fact, I want to confess something. Every time I listen to Silicon Valley types or students bragging about failing fast and often like it’s no big deal, I cringe. Because I think that there is a dark side on the mantra ‘fail fast.’ Of course, failing fast is a great way to accelerate learning and avoid wasting time. But I fear that when we present rapid failure to entrepreneurs as their one and only option, we might be promoting laziness. We might be promoting that entrepreneurs give up too easily. I also fear that the culture of rapid failure could be minimizing the devastating consequences of the failure of a business. For instance, when my social enterprise died, the worst part was that I had to go back to the indigenous community and tell the women that the business had failed and it was my fault. For some people this could be seen like a great learning opportunity for me, but the truth is that the closure of this business represented much more than that. It meant that the women would stop receiving an income that they really needed.”

Mindfulness is about connecting with the present embracing the sensations, feelings and thoughts of the moment. As failure is a integral part of everyday life, a mindful ethos means embracing the sensations, feelings and thoughts that accompany those failures. Gasca tells us that embracing failure isn’t about shrugging it off and getting past it as “fast” a possible, but instead to fully appreciate its pain as well as its silver linings.