Monday, February 6, 2017

Exploring the Failure Zone

This tidy little volume, Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better, came to me as a mystery gift from my local book haunt. They were giving away books one Christmas, already wrapped, with clever little hints on the tags. It's been waiting patiently on my TBR list ever since.

In some ways this is the perfect book for me, because I'm a perfectionist. I work very hard to be more relaxed about things--and if you think that last assertion is funny, then you know exactly what I'm saying.

Just the other day at the start of a presentation, I had to log in while the screen was already being projected onto the big screen for the entire audience to see. That was the most stressful part of the entire presentation: knowing that if I made a typo and couldn't log in the first time, everyone would see and know. Not that they would care, mind you--it was a friendly audience. I just hate making a mistake when folks are watching!

The book began as a graduation speech Buddhist nun Pema Chodron gave when her granddaughter graduated from Naropa University. The text of the speech is delivered a few sentences at a time, on the right-hand page, with an interesting simple illustration on the left-hand page. It unfurls gently, giving the reader plenty of time to think about each nugget of wisdom before proceeding on to the next. The illustrations progress, too, building into complex patterns and then morphing into other patterns, always reflective of the words on their counterpart pages. (The illustrations make this a kind of flip book, too, which is a nice bonus.)

The speech itself is imbued with the Buddhist sense of engaging with things as they are, even the most uncomfortable things: not hiding, not avoiding, not shoving under the rug. It's a message that's not easy to hear in our fix-it-quick society, where we're all too ready to blame external forces for our problems and/or to move on quickly as though we had nothing to do with whatever disaster has occurred. It was simultaneously restful and challenging to pause, reflect, face up to the idea of failure, and try to make it a teacher, maybe even a friend.

The graduation speech is augmented with the transcript of an interview with the author in which many of the same points are explored more deeply. It made the book more substantial, turning it from something you might give as a gift for a graduation into a book you might also buy for yourself and return to over time.

My copy was an uncorrected proof. I didn't find any errors (and I have an eagle eye). I do hope they made a slight correction in the book's design, because this very nice and thoughtful text is printed in grey ink. The illustrations were quite dark and seemed to jump off the page in comparison to the text. The grey text, on the other hand, was difficult to read unless the light was very, very good.

So, getting comfortable with failure. Maybe even embracing failure as a learning tool. Perhaps, dare I say it, welcoming failure as the gateway toward doing better next time.


Your best qualities come out of that place because it's unguarded and you're not shielding yourself. Failing better means that failure becomes a rich and fertile ground instead of just another slap in the face. . . . And it isn't that failure doesn't still hurt. I mean, you lose people you love. All kinds of things happen that break your heart, but you can hold failure and loss as part of your human experience and that which connects you with other people.

Note: This book counts toward the 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge. I'm also counting it as the letter C (Naropa University is in Boulder, Colorado) for the Where are You Reading Challenge.

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