“Success is failure turned inside out.” ~John Greenleaf Whittier
Failure is a given when you are merely a fallible creature going through the futile motions of living life in an uncertain universe. It’s going to happen, whether you’re lucky or not.
Failing is a part of life. And life is full of ups and downs. Sometimes it’s more down than up. Either way, it’s a veritable rollercoaster ride out there. Better to be prepared for the worst than to expect the best. Best to take responsibility for the pain of being down by making the best of it.
Setbacks, tragedy, bad luck, they’re all a part of life. It’s going to happen, a lot. Ultimately it comes down to how you respond to tragedy. Is it remain inert and overwhelmed, or is it adapt and overcome?
There is wisdom hidden in failure if you are keen to it. Setbacks can be transformed into steppingstones. Comedy can be hardwired into tragedy. Catastrophe can be whittled into accomplishment. Failure is future fortitude. Millstones are whetstones that you sharpen yourself against to discover the Philosopher’s Stone.
You can build a ladder out of the shattered pieces of your life and climb out of the abyss.
But, climber beware, there is always a deeper abyss. Defeat, hard luck, and utter collapse are always right around the corner. Disappointment is Accomplishment’s kissing cousin. Tragedy is Triumph’s red-headed stepchild. Today’s achievement could very well be tomorrow’s tripwire. So be it. Use it all as a sharpening stone for your all-too-mortal soul. As Samuel Beckett said, “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”
Failing better is choosing to be sharpened by failure rather than jaded by it. Do you turn the tables on the pain of failure and come at it with a sense of humor, or do you tremble before it with a sense of dread? Do you have hard feelings about it, or do you cultivate a disposition of lightheartedness? Do you take it seriously and tighten your grip, or do you take it sincerely and loosen up a bit?
If you avoid failure, embarrassment, and fear, then you will never do or create anything meaningful. You will fall short of being a valuable human. So go all in. Fail fast. Embarrass yourself as quickly as possible. Make glorious mistakes. As George Bernard Shaw said, “A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.”
So, take a deep breath. Have a laugh. Your defeats won’t last, but neither will your victories. Celebrate your successes and learn from your failures, then let it all go with a carefree attitude. And remember: the journey is the thing, no matter how difficult the journey may be.
Weekly Self-inflictions #8: Pain
“Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.” ~William Goldman
Pain is an inherent aspect of our journey, but there’s nothing saying we can’t transform that pain to a guide, or even a powerful teacher. If we can gain the capacity to recognize the guideposts and learn the lessons that Pain provides, we’ll be more adept at adapting and more likely to transform pain into providence.
But make no mistake, providence isn’t a state of bliss. It’s constructed out of pain. It’s made out of scars. Its wisdom comes from sacred wounds. It was forged in a crucible of the soul and a Rubicon of the spirit. Indeed. Providence is proof that pain remains our most powerful sharpening stone.
This is how strength has been forged since time immemorial. Pressure is how diamonds are made. The incessant rub is how pearls are formed. Enduring pain is how strength manifests. A journey through the abyss is where heroes are born. As Jung said, “A man grows with the greatness of his task.”
Therefore, pain should not be avoided at the expense of doing what we love. What we love should be embraced at the risk of pain.
From this strength will come the capacity for deep evaluation. Your own set of values will be the gold that the dragon of your psychic dungeon has been hoarding all along. But now you ARE the dragon. Now you HAVE teeth. Now you can turn that fool’s gold into real gold, into a value system that empowers you to greater and greater heights.
It’s only by discovering your own set of values, your own purpose and meaning, that you become valuable. Valuable to yourself, to others, to your community, and to the world. This is providence: the ability to reevaluate all values.
Self-inflicted philosophy is a discipline of reevaluating all values. It’s a constant self-interrogation. We “inflict” philosophy on ourselves to break through our barriers, biases, cognitive dissonance, cultural conditioning, political brainwashing, religious indoctrination, and, most of all, to stretch our comfort zone.
This can be painful. But it’s masochistic in an existential sense. Existential masochism teaches us how to discover joy despite the pain of life. It unearths the mystery from the misery. It’s not only finding pleasure in pain, but also the pleasurable experience of transforming pain into strength.
In the end, the most powerful is the one who transforms pain into purpose, purpose into power, power into humility, and humility into humor.
The most authentic kind of meaning that we can create is the humorous kind that has been dug up from the ashes of tragedy. Sure, life is full of pain and suffering; but it’s also full of laughter and love.
As Kierkegaard said, “Satire causes pain, but this pain is oriented toward healing.”