Stepping Stone of Failure on the Path to Enlightenment

Falling into place


Asalha Puja today is a Theravada Buddhist festival also known as Dharma Day, is one of its most important festivals, celebrating the Buddha’s first sermon which is laid out “the central doctrine of the four noble truths” which very much embraced failure. (thanks Cori)

  • “The central importance of dukkha in Buddhist philosophy is not intended to present a pessimistic view of life, but rather to present a realistic practical assessment of the human condition—that all beings must experience suffering and pain at some point in their lives, including the inevitable sufferings of illness, aging, and death. Contemporary Buddhist teachers and translators emphasize that while the central message of Buddhism is optimistic, the Buddhist view of our situation in life (the conditions that we live in) is neither pessimistic nor optimistic, but realistic.”

May all your failures take you a step closer to enlightenment.

Embracing Tapping Out


The saying goes that it is easy to be a “good winner”, but a lot harder to be a “good loser”. You don’t get much better loser than Mike Pantangco, Mixed Martial Arts fights in Prison City Fight League…

  • “Patango was winning the fight and backs off and taps out. And he told us why he forfeited a fight he was winning. ‘I just feel that there’s no point in fighting him because he didn’t train against me and I didn’t train for him and I just feel like we’re amateur fighters. We don’t get money. We don’t get paid,’ said Pantangco in a heavy accent. ‘And I know that the only thing [that’d happen] is him to go to the hospital or get hurt. I just feel terrible so I’m just going to give him the win.’"

Winner of the embracing failure gold medal for character and sportsmanship.

Embracing Bronze

Olga Graf bronze medal

Olympic Day today celebrates the Olympic spirit. Yes, many will seek the dream of their life’s work to be crowned Olympic champion. But the spirit of the Games extends far beyond the grand prize. Baron Pierre de Coubertin comments, "The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part; the essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well."

As Seth says in his post “Cheering when you lose”…

  • “Who is waiting at the finish line, and who will be cheering for you at the final banquet, even when you don’t win? Especially when you don’t win…I’m not talking about the sometime fan who rewards the winner, or the logo-wearing baseball fan who shows up when the team is in contention… I’m wondering about the person that is in it for your effort and your passion and your tears. Almost nothing is more important to the artist who dares to leap.”

And leaping is exactly what Russia’s Olga Graf did at the medal ceremony for the women’s speed skating 3000m medal podium (see above). The saying goes “2nd place is the 1st loser”. I guess that goes double for the 3rd place bronze finish. But don’t tell that to Olga.

Holding the Rawness of Vulnerability


Commencement season again and the theme of embracing failure will definitely be making it into plenty of valedictory and honorary speeches. And if there is anyone who has milked such a theme, it is Pema Chonron. Not only did she make it the topic of her Naropa University address, but she also published the talk into a book (with each page being about 2 sentences) and then also posted it on YouTube (and instead of just posting it, she chopped it up into a dozen short clips).

I bought “Fail Fail Again Fail Better” because I consider buying almost any book on failure and I was sold by the imprimatur of the “Forward” [sic] written by Seth Godin (the best part of the book). As much as I’m loathe to criticise a Buddhist nun, it is really a weak treatment.  But, here are a few excerpts that I did appreciate…

  • Fail again, fail better. It’s like how to get good at holding the rawness of vulnerability in your heart. Or how to get good at welcoming the ‘unwelcome’…There are usually two ways that we deal with [failure]. We either blame it on someone else or some other – the organisation, our boss, or partners, whatever…The other really common thing…is that we feel really bad about ourselves and label ourselves ‘a failure’…Out of that very same space of vulnerability and rawness and the failing of failure can come our best human qualities or bravery, kindness, the ability to really care about each other, the ability to reach out to each other.”

She also recounts a fun story of an old man who responds to the fortunes of life with unflappable equanimity. First, the prized horse of the old man and his family runs away. The wife is horrified and exclaims, “This is the worst thing ever!” The old man replies, “Maybe yes, maybe no.” The next day, the horse returns with a mare. The wife proclaims, “This is the best thing ever.” The old man replies, “Maybe yes, maybe no.” Then the new horse breaks their son’s leg…”worst thing…”…”maybe yes, maybe…” And this goes on and on with each piece of bad news leading to a silver lining and each piece of good news leading to a complication or problem.

Was this a good treatment of “embracing failure”? Maybe yes, maybe no.

Building Dreams

Gapingvoid - building dreams


  • Trust me, I love my job, but there is a dark side. Dreaming is easy. Too easy. The hard part is making dreams come true. And that’s not a dream. That’s a lot of grinding away in the salt mines.” – Hugh

Today is Gapingvoid’s 14th Birthday. Gapingvoid was the first blog whose RSS feed I ever subscribed to. It was one of the inspirations to the start of my own blogging. Over the years, Hugh and I have become good friends though our interaction has reduced with his departure from London. Still, his daily email keeps me inspired.

This one above captures the duality of dreams that I explore in my Dream Bubble posts. Dreams are powerful forces. In the right hands, they can propel one forward. But they can just as easily be abused and mishandled grinding one down.

This blog is about balance across duality. Leadership and Management. Success through Failure. Advantage through Adversity. Yin and Yang. Hugh always has plenty of insight into getting that balance right.

Happy Birthday Gapingvoid.

5,126 Failures That Didn’t Suck

Gapingvoid - scrunched


James Dyson turns 69 today and celebrated by hitting a new high on the Sunday Times Rich List this week reaching #17 in the UK with his £5 billion pound empire (a £1.5 billion increase from last year). Of course, such phenomenal success is built on a solid foundation of failure…

  • “Five thousand one hundred and twenty-six failed vacuum cleaners. That’s how many prototypes it took for James Dyson to get it right. 5, 127 was his lucky number. He’s now worth over $4 billion. It’s not about being brilliant, or about always being right. It’s about not giving up before you have the chance to succeed.”

Or as Hugh says, “failures scrunched together”…

Turning Adverse Thoughts

Gapingvoid - never give up

  • Hope is fuel, it moves us forward and it amplifies our best work.” – Seth Godin Hope and expectation

World Wish Day today. A time to celebrate your hopes and dreams and aspirations. For the skeptics out there, there is actual evidence that wishing and dreaming can provide real, documentable benefits. Robert Rowland Smith in his article “Does daydreaming serve any purpose?” explores this dynamic with its own tinge of turning adversity to advantage…

  • “Sigmund Freud argued that daydreaming is a form of fantasising, fantasising is a form of imagination, and imagination is the basis of art. Hence creative writers. He did add a proviso, however, to the effect that daydreaming is a sign of unhappiness. If you have to fantasise about something else, it means you’re not content with your life as it is. So artists and writers might produce great art, but are constitutionally miserable. A later psychoanalyst, Hanna Segal, had a more positive take. She suggested that daydreaming and imagination were ways of turning unhappy thoughts into something creative. They are signs of good mental health. They might even alleviate depression. And a third psychoanalyst, Christopher Bollas, implies that the distracted or abstracted mood we’re in when daydreaming provides the mental downtime necessary for us to be able to focus again. When the mind wanders, it refreshes itself. Daydreaming is a holiday that restores our ability to think acutely.”

Given my ongoing series on the “Death of Dreams” you might be inclined to think that my marking of this day would be muted. On the contrary, dreams occupy that duality of both upside and downside. And while my failure embracing side advocates the letting go of faltered dreams, it is only so new ones can thrive in their place. Hugh MacLeod said it best when describing his piece shown above…

  • “It’s not that you must never, ever give up on your dreams, sometimes dreams don’t happen. I once dreamt of living in Tokyo, for example. It never happened. It’s OK, I got over it. I found new dreams instead. It’s when we lose the capacity to dream, I think, is when the rot seeps in. When we stop giving ourselves permission to make the world a better place, even on a modest scale. It’s dreams that make life seem actually real to us.”

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 157 other followers