Everyone, I think, fears failure on a profound level. May it be failing a test, or social or family expectations, or expectations you have set yourself, the fear of failure is very present and very alive. Often – perhaps too often – it is this fear that drives us to make the decisions we make, live the way we do and think the way we do. It is this fear that often determines who we are.
When I was 5, my mum was teaching me how to draw a rose. I cried for two hours for just not being able to draw a curved line to create the rose. I did not realize, at the time, how ridiculous this reaction was, but I remember how much pain I felt at that age, and how I believed so faithfully, with tears streaming down by cheeks, that I was a failure.
When you’re young, the smaller things mean the world to you. After all, we are yet to find a bigger picture. My mum caressed me and said, “No line you draw will ever be perfect. Do not cry and be lifeless over what you cannot change or perfect. Just continue to draw. This is life.”
Often, we think that to fail is to be weak. And it is not only undesirable to be weak, but too often we fear it. We don’t want to be associated with it, just as water does not associate well with oil. It’s not exclusively a matter of pride. I think it is a matter of losing our sense of self. Deep down, underneath all the rubble that is our emotions, thoughts and desires, amidst the dust and earth, there rests the truth about our very human need to feel intact. We have hidden our vulnerabilities, our smallness. Compared to the universe, we are so little. When you come to realize this, it is frightening.
Our smallness is there, but as we move and experience the world, we keep this truth trapped within us. We do not always want to show it. After all, why would we when we are so afraid of it?
When we perceive our weakness, it feels as though we are threatened; it is as though someone has crawled their way into that hidden place and is looking for it. We feel uncomfortable, cautious, tuning into every step and every breath that the person takes. When we are weak, we become more receptive to pain – a pain we would rather avoid. So we shut the curtains; close everyone off. The vulnerability remains intact.
But what about the beauty of this vulnerability?
What if failure is the rare opportunity to find peace in your weakness?
To find peace, requires of us to let go of the things we cannot change. Not to dismiss or neglect them entirely, as if they never happened or existed, but hold them with tender and careful hands, as one holds a dove, and set them free. And then to not look, but to see and appreciate the way they fly over time; to understand the reason for their existence. It is the purposefulness of our flaws that can give us such contentment.
Steve Jobs once said at a commencement speech, “you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something.”
Trust in God.
When I was 5, someone very wise confiscated my rubber off me as I was drawing, and said to me, “Do not depend on the rubber. Embrace your mistakes and make them beautiful; give them meaning. The best of art is founded on mistakes.”
To fail is to be vulnerable. But to find true peace in your weakness, is to find God. For truly, it is through your failures, and through losing such attachment to yourself, that you will know God. And this gives you strength, beauty, serenity and stillness. Cherish your failures, hold them with loving hands, and let them go when you are ready. You will come to see and understand why they have been given to you in the first place.