• It took me years to be the woman my mother raised. It took me 4 years, 7 months and 3 days to do it, without her. After I lost myself in the wilderness of my grief, I found my own way out of the woods.” – Cheryl Strayed

Another tormented and wayward character is Cheryl Strayed in the film “Wild”. While the film is infused with life-affirming metaphor, what I appreciated was the pragmatic portrayal of the failure embracing expeditions where you jettison all the baggage (metaphorical and real) of daily life. Pilgrimages, walkabouts, retreats, vision quests, samskara have all been a common technique in sacred and traditional practices for finding change, meaning and rebirth in one’s life. Even Christianity’s savior had to endure 40 days in the desert to find his true faith.

Watching the film, I realized that such odysseys were sort of manufactured ways to “hit rock bottom” in a structured and firewalled (ie. insulated from the rest of your life) manner. A long established adage is that addicts won’t seek true help until they “hit rock bottom”. Not until they have lost everything – family, friends, employment – do they find the realization of the turnaround they require.

The problem is that embracing failure to this extent takes the person to a very dark and place from which it is often very hard to emerge. Furthermore, it typically sucks in loved ones – those friends, family and co-workers – who suffer pain in the victim’s descent both in through their own empathy toward the suffered and the sufferer’s own destructive behaviour. But taking yourself on a thousand mile hike with only the provisions on your back sort of mimics the hardship, and stripped down to the basics brutality of existence of “hitting rock bottom” only without the casualties of innocent bystanders and without permanently ridding yourself of your worldly trappings.

As it happens, Strayed is played by someone who herself is no stranger to failure, Reese Witherspoon. Her profile in Vogue, “Reese Witherspoon has some important career advice on failure and rejection”, focused on this topic.

  • · “What I didn’t know then was: rejection teaches you perseverance and how to get tough. And you also learn… not every path is right for you.”