Courage in the face of perceived failure

1. Introduction

I had a wonderful time teaching in New York City, and as always I also enjoyed the opportunity to meet some of you through private sessions while I was in town. I want to take this opportunity to thank Joel Elfman and Anson Mau for sponsoring and managing the workshop, and I also want to thank my long time friend Stephen Roger for his support of my work.

As I mentioned last time out, my forthcoming book is at the printers. We are trying to create the possibility to have it for sale by Christmas. Not sure yet, so stay tuned!

Today’s story involves work that was done at one of my previous workshops. It is common for one or two people a day, to come up and have me work with them individually in front of the group. The results of these sessions are often beautiful to behold.

In sharing this encounter, I want to let you know that- I have changed the name of the person I worked with in order to preserve her privacy, and I have also asked her permission to share her story. She was very happy to say “Yes” as she hopes that others in the Seishindo community might learn from her experience.


2. Courage in the face of perceived failure

The fear of failure is an emotion that knocks on everyone’s door at one time or another …

Here is what “Karen” had to say about failure, when I worked with her in the front of the room at a recent workshop.

Karen and I start out as I often do, talking about various topics, as we wait for the right thread of conversation to emerge.

I have no idea what the right thread of conversation will be, but I’m confident we will find it, if we engage each other with open hearts and minds.

At some point Karen states she’s been doing a lot of meaningless work for quite some time. She says she’s been doing the work no one else in her company wanted to do. As a result of this, she says she’s lost touch with herself and her dreams.

In a heavy, dark voice she says,
“Fifty two years old, and look at me, I’m a failure!
“A broken marriage, a broken career, and nothing to show for all my suffering.”

Her words touch me deeply, and I take a deep breath to help center myself.
Then I thank her for having the courage to share such a powerful message.

“Failure or no failure,” I say, “it’s very special to be with someone who is able and willing to expose and express their pain. Standing up to one’s perceived failures, is an act of great courage.”

I take another deep breath and look around the room some, wanting everyone to know it’s OK to gently respond if they care to.

I look back at Karen and begin to tell her about some of my own failures.
I don’t have to reach too far, to recall a number of disappointments and disillusionments.

Little by little, spontaneously and honestly, most everyone in the room shares some of their failures as well.

Getting fired … A broken marriage … A broken friendship … Trouble with one’s children …
Rather quickly the list grows long, and it soon becomes apparent that no one in the room has been “only successful”.

At some point I ask the group if anyone would be willing to share their definition of “failure”.

There is silence …
And then Karen, all of a sudden looking inspired, says, “Failure is when you try to make believe you are someone other than who you are.

“Failure is when you come to believe there aren’t any viable alternatives in life, to the way you’ve been living.

“Failure is when you don’t share your experience with others because you’re convinced it’s only you who is suffering. That somehow all the madness has occurred because something is wrong with you.

“Failure is feeling you are incapable of finding satisfaction and love.”

Karen takes a deep breath, looks around, and adjusts her posture, before finally saying, “Failure is sitting slumped over as I tend to do, and feeling like you are powerless.”

Tears begin to ebb down Karen’s face, and the entire group is touched by her courage and pain.

People transition from listening with their ears, to ‘someone else’s’ experience,
To feeling with their hearts, how Karen’s words and sorrow are shared by all of us.

Such is the power of a supportive, caring community.
The courageous sharing of any one group member, can lead to the healing of all who are present.

“I” becomes “We”,
And it is this “we-dentity” that gives us the courage to stand up and face our greatest fears, and seeming shortcomings.

At such times, “failure” is transformed into a triumph of human spirit.

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