I was happy to receive an email from Deepak Chopra’s organization that related to my fifth Core Agreement: Fail Bravely.I was delighted to see that he sets the whole relationship between “success” and “failure” in the context of evolution. In essence, if the point of it all is to personal and collective evolution, then judgements that we’ve succeeded or failed are actually beside the point. Both come to us as opportunities to evolve.
It might feel better to succeed. But have you noticed, this feeling is itself fleeting? As the saying goes, “we’re only as good as our last success” —or at least that is what we’ve been taught to believe. Which means that if we can’t continue to get the applaud meter going in the right direction consistently, our small self tells us that we are a failure. And if we are able to get that applaud meter up into the red zone, usually we end up burned out.
Deepak wisely suggest an alternative, a method of self-inquiry, if we are to hold “success” and “failure” within a larger mandate to evolve. What follows is taken directly from his article which I’ve linked to above:
Emotions: Ask yourself how you feel. Be with the feeling. Compare it to other times when a similar feeling has arisen.
Self-support: Consider yourself the agent of change. If you’re facing negative input, don’t blame anything outside yourself. Focus on how to deal with your own emotions and responses in a positive way.
Perspective: Do what it takes to get an objective view of the situation. This is different from having friends who tell you that things can only get better. Instead, find someone who has experienced the same thing you’re going through and who has successfully met the challenge.
Patience: The mind reacts to negative situations with various symptoms of stress, including anxiety, insecurity, shame, shock, the urge to run away, etc. Be patient enough to let these responses subside. Don’t make any decisions until you are centered and less stressed.
Self-compassion: Approach yourself with kindness. Be easy with your stressed-out state. Don’t judge yourself. When your mind spirals into thoughts of loss, failure, and anxiety, accept these as normal, the way pain is normal if you cut or bruise yourself. Don’t buy into them as the truth; symptoms are signs that you are still hurting, nothing more.
Decision-making: Once you have practiced the other things on the list, you are ready to decide one of three things—Should I try to fix the situation? Should I put up with it? Should I walk away? People who consider themselves successes—and whom the world views as a success—are good deciders. They get to a place inside where they have enough mental clarity that they can weigh the three choices just outlined. The opposite of this, being a bad decider, comes about when a person is too impulsive, insecure, uncertain, or confused. These are normal states, especially in a crisis. In learning how to handle them, however, you evolve and learn that making good decisions is an acquired skill.
This is harder than it looks. My take on this is that this kind of practice requires a lot of maturity. I remember in my late 20’s when I was going for my accreditation as a supervisor in pastoral counselling. The panel failed me. I didn’t have the ego strength to follow the above steps. I had never “failed” before. I was Bruce Sanguin, successful in everything I put my hand to. I just felt rejected. I was devastated. For a good three weeks I felt worthless as a human being.
I had no self-compassion, no patience, no perspective, and no self-support. Nevertheless, I decided to appeal the decision. My appeal was accompanied by a 20 page article which was very clever, criticizing the educational method and the interviewing style of my panel. Unfortunately, my appeal was successful. I deserved to have failed. I truly believe that my own evolution would have been better served by entering into a deeper inquiry than I allowed myself. Essentially, I blamed them.
My reactivity was evidence enough that I wasn’t ready to become a supervisor at the age of 29. I needed to understand the underlying trauma, the deep shame that was triggered by my “failure”. It was a lost opportunity.
I would add to Deepak’s list, go see a competent therapist, who can help you get at the trauma, the memory that was triggered. Only then can our “failures” truly serve our evolutionary path.
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