Embracing Hard Questions

Gapingvoid - hard questions

Happy Birthday Hugh. Of all my failure embracing thought leaders, Hugh’s drawings feature more frequently than Scott Adams legendary Dilbert on this blog, and he is quoted more than anyone save Seth Godin. For a catalogue of his quirkily illustrated insights, I not only recommend his book “Ignore Everybody: And 39 Other Keys to Creativity”, I give it away a birthday present often.


Gapingvoid - massive inevitable success


The Gospel of Doubt


I’ve longed linked the concepts “embracing failure” and skepticism” in this blog (skepticism embraces the failure of knowing), but today they are merged in celebration of both International Failure Day and International Skeptics Day. To celebrate, I thought I’d share one of my favourite TED talks that strikes at the heart of both:

  • “It simply is not true to say that we live in an age of disbelief — no, we believe today just as much as any time that came before. Some of us may believe in the prophecy of Brené Brown or Tony Robbins. We may believe in the bible of The New Yorker or the Harvard Business Review. We may believe most deeply when we worship right here at the church of TED, but we desperately want to believe, we need to believe. We speak in the tongues of charismatic leaders that promise to solve all our problems. We see suffering as a necessary act of the capitalism that is our god, we take the text of technological progress to be infallible truth. And we hardly realize the human price we pay when we fail to question one brick, because we fear it might shake our whole foundation. But if you are disturbed by the unconscionable things that we have come to accept, then it must be questioning time. So I have not a gospel of disruption or innovation or a triple bottom line. I do not have a gospel of faith to share with you today, in fact. I have and I offer a gospel of doubt. The gospel of doubt does not ask that you stop believing, it asks that you believe a new thing: that it is possible not to believe. It is possible the answers we have are wrong, it is possible the questions themselves are wrong. Yes, the gospel of doubt means that it is possible that we, on this stage, in this room, are wrong. Because it raises the question, "Why?" With all the power that we hold in our hands, why are people still suffering so bad?”

Faith is not the unwavering belief that you know everything. Faith is the unwavering belief that life can go on, have meaning, have purpose, and have hope even though you don’t know everything. The more you doubt, the deeper your faith.

In the Pink Slips

Youre Fired

“I recommend that you all get fired – it’s a great learning experience.” – Anna Wintour

In adulthood, the consequences of failure seem all the more dire, but actually no less worthy of embrace. The penultimate failure (after mortality which is the ultimate tragedy no one wants to embrace) is job failure – termination…getting fired. Any yet, many people recount poignant stories about how such a jarring turn of professional events set their lives on remarkably positive directions…

  • Maria Hatzistefanis – Founder of global luxury skincare brand Rodial shares her story “Being Fired Is the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me” (paywalled) – “I was shocked, but not surprised. ‘Oh my God, only losers get fired,’ I thought. ‘Am I a loser?’ For the first time in my life, I had no job, nor any idea of what I would do next. I panicked. But then something strange happened – after a few sad days, I accepted that they have done me a favour. I wasn’t right for the job, and sometimes things need to be taken out of your hands.”
  • Mika Brzezinski – National new presenter recounts her odyssey of being let go and enduring months of fruitless job searching in the piece “The Road Not Taken: How Getting Fired Boosted My Career” – “It took many more months, but I called every network known to man and begged for ANY job they had available. I found myself LEAPING at the opportunity to work a day rate, part-time, freelance job at MSNBC reading 30 second news cut-ins — a job I probably would have scoffed at 15 years prior. Eight weeks into working the ‘cut-in shift’ at MSNBC, Don Imus was knocked off the air for making unfortunate comments. MSNBC was on the hunt for a new morning show…I was back on the road again.”
  • John Lloyd – Television producer shared his termination in the article “Douglas Adams sacked me, then I changed ITV” (paywalled) – “In 1978, I’d resigned as a radio producer, partly to helped Douglas Adams write the first series of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Then Douglas decided to write it on his own. But disaster turned out to be a gift.”

If you get “fired”, then get “fired up”.

Failing to Learn


Have your kids failed enough today? You might think that they fail too much every day. But what about celebrating some of those failures instead of just correcting or chastising them? That’s what the father of billionaire entrepreneur Sara Blakely did on a daily basis. She shares this routine confessional of her childhood in the Inc article “Billionaire CEO Sara Blakely Says These 7 Words Are the Best Career Advice She Ever Got” (thanks Karen) which is also echoed in her interview above:

  • “Yet when asked what the best advice she ever received was, she doesn’t talk about success. Instead, she talks about how, as a child, her father would sit her down at the dining room table and ask her the same question: ‘What did you fail at this week?’ He didn’t want to know how many As she’d gotten. He wasn’t interested in how many girl scout cookies she’d sold, how many goals she’d scored on her soccer team, or whether she’d gotten a perfect score on her math test. No, he wanted to know what she had failed at. And when she told him, do you know what his reaction was? He high-fived her.”

The documentary film ‘Race To Nowhere” looks the stresses on children to succeed in education these days highlighted the same message in the review by Cynthia Joyce”

  • “There’s a key scene in the documentary ‘Race to Nowhere’ when a high school student asks, ‘If I can’t fail, and make mistakes, then how can I be expected to learn?’ Such a question might earn a stern slap on the wrist from ‘Tiger Mom’ Amy Chua. But it’s an astute observation and one that drives home the main point of the film: that our preoccupation with testing and performance has undermined actual learning in the classroom, and may even be threatening the healthy development of kids, who frequently feel overwhelmed by the pressure to excel at all costs.”

These comments reminded me of a “Working Families” conference where I presented a paper. Lancashire (Gen Y) student on the panel provided the obverse perspective of not embracing failure in one’s childhood:

  • “Generation Y have grown up having never had to deal with failure (because often you got an award for just showing up) and as a result they often have difficulty taking critical feedback. I remember when I first failed at something at school, it nearly crushed me. There is a fragility in Gen Y that comes from this lack of having to confront failure.”


Changing the Water

Coffee 2

International Coffee Day today. And I love a good metaphor about as much as a steaming hot cuppa in the morning (stove-top brewed with freshly ground medium roast, extra hot latte with two sweeteners). So for the occasion, a great analogy on embracing failure.

  • · “A young woman went to her grandmother and told her about her life and how things were so hard for her. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up. She was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed that as one problem was solved, a new one arose. Her grandmother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Soon the pots came …to a boil. In the first, she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs, and the last she placed ground coffee beans. She let them sit and boil, without saying a word…Her grandmother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity — boiling water — but each reacted differently. The carrot went in strong, hard and unrelenting. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior. But, after sitting through the boiling water, its inside became hardened. The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water, they had changed the water. ‘Which are you?’ she asked her granddaughter. ‘When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg, or a coffee bean?’… How do you handle adversity? Are you changed by your surroundings or do you bring life, flavor, to them?

Embracing All Days

Gapingvoid - another day

  • “Walt Disney was told to scrap Mickey Mouse (they thought a giant mouse would scare women). Steven Speilberg and Albert Einstein were rejected from the schools they applied to. Charles Darwin’s own dad thought he was lazy and wouldn’t amount to much. The world would miss out on an awful lot, if we let the bad days hold us back.” – Hugh MacLeod

Today is National Lazy Day, but judging by my posting here you could say that I’ve had many lazy days. I’ve gone the longest period in the decade of this blog without posting (27 June was last post). Part of the reason is the distractions of the summer. Part of it is getting going a number of other new sites and blogs – Forclairty, Dog Golf, Adaptive Rowing UK. Things are starting to settle a bit and I thought that today’s “lazy day” would be a great time to get going. As Hugh says, if I fail to get everything done today, there’s always another day.

Embracing Reboot

Computer error messages

Vitality shows not only in the ability to persist, but in the ability to start over." – F. Scott Fitzgerald

CTL-ALT-DEL. The symbol of computer failure is possibly its most powerful feature. The reboot. When all has gone wrong, when all else fails, you can turn it off and on again. And the vast majority of the time that sets things right.

If only life were so simple. Which is what Mark Ward muses in his piece “Beginning Again

  • Beginning starts with a full stop. Like rebooting a blky computer, we need to disrupt the scripts and simply be present to ourselves; unrated, unevaluated, unjudged. Let the busy mind settle down: enter into a moment where we are not awaiting, not hoping, not longing; just welcoming, accepting. Here we find a moment of the what Buddhists call ‘maitri’, a complete acceptance or unconditional friendship with ourselves as we are. It is not a matter of fixing or improving some debility, making up for some lack; rather a settled awareness of an appreciation for who we are.”

Maybe we can program ourselves to be a bit more resilient like computers by embracing failure…and re-booting from time to time.

Dilbert - reboot