Rethinking Failure

Failure. failure. FAILURE. What pops into your mind when you hear the word?  Is it a failed relationship? Or a job offer that never materialized? Or a mortgage that was never approved? Or a marriage that ended badly? Or maybe failure has migrated its profile to become a trait that showed up one day and lingered.  Last week a rare coffee break with a dear friend got me thinking about failure in an entirely new light. It helped me see that failure may not be any of the things I listed above or the many more that we all could add to the list.  What if we have failure all wrong?

Empty Bowl Project, Las Vegas

My dear friend is someone I’ve known for thirty years. We see each other off and on.  Many many years ago her college-aged daughter, June, died in a tragic accident.  When we get together, I always make it a point to ask her to tell me a story about June. It is a little way to celebrate June, a beautiful dynamic person whose life was cut way too short.

“Very few people know how artistic June was.” Said my friend with a twinkle in her eye as we sipped our coffees. She went on to tell me about a time when June visited a high-school-aged neighbor who was working on her college application’s art portfolio. It seems that June was more able than most to connect with this aspiring – and mildly terrified – artist. June asked about her materials; the techniques she was working on; her preferences for clay and stone and wood; and mostly about the feelings that she tried to evoke with her art. After she died, the aspiring artist told my friend about her incredible afternoon spent talking with June.

“Very few people knew that about June.” Said my friend at the end of her story.

Her summary stuck in my head.

Do you have gifts that lie outside of other’s vision?  Outside of your own?

What if failure is really about risk, the risk of not bringing forward the incredible richness that resides in each of us?

If I stay on that thought, failure takes on a much different profile. It has nothing to do with the number of publishers who have said no to me  – so far – for my second book nor the relationship that cratered after a dear friend moved away. It has to do with my awareness of my own gifts – what constitutes me – and how I choose to use them.

If I consider failure in this way, I can go in a number of different directions. For example, how many of us foster our gifts?  I think we reflexively lose sight of our gifts thanks to cultural norms that place a higher value on some gifts versus others. Many of us aspire to belong to that social norm, a desire that asks us to shape, stifle, bend or even ignore parts of who we are.

Could failure be a choice like transition? We’ve learned on this blog – now eight years old!! – that we grossly misunderstand transition as a society.  At it most basic level, transition is a process that enables us to grow. Through it, we broaden our definition and expectations of who we are. We grow beyond the norms that limit the use of our gifts, norms that cause us to look outside of ourselves for an answer. As we grow, we integrate more of who we are in the choices we make. Our voices become stronger. Our gifts clearer to see.

Life is bursting with what society terms as failure. These disappointments or  disruptions or misses are real. Some break our hearts, like the loss of June. Others catapult us onto a different path, or summon a different tone.

Here is what June’s artistic nature helped me see. Failure has nothing to do with the particulars – the job, the spouse, the mother-in-law, the recognition, or the zeros in our bank accounts. Failure has to do with the courage we have to explore who we are. In earnest. And to welcome with an open heart what we find there.

Society does not make it easy on us. We can fail at securing a mortgage or at an acceptance to a coveted college or we can fail to love.  These disruptions can be maddening and hurtful and full of anxiety and terribly isolating. Depending on the color of your skin or the zip code you live in – like in the case of failing to secure a mortgage – these disruptions can also be illegal.

But what they are not, are failures.

This weekend many faiths celebrate spring. My hope is that the renewal that is so emblematic of spring reminds us of the opportunity to tap what lies hidden within each of us. May you greet spring with an awareness of the world’s deep-seated need to know you.  All that is you. May you find the courage to take steps in that very direction…

Warmest wishes, Linda R. (


***************************************************************************Be my guest!

Are you in transition or considering one? I’d love you to join me as a guest on Destination Unknown: a field guide (available on iTunes).  The podcast consists of fifteen minute power episodes that are as great as they are important. It is fun and easy to do. It is also a great way to get familiar with podcasting.

Please drop me an email if you are interested.



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4 responses to “Rethinking Failure

  1. Great post, Lin. Thank you.

  2. AuthorSarahKrewis

    What a beautiful post!

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