ifindkarma. elegance is refusal.

June 14, 2009

Failure, loss, and learning.

Filed under: believe!, life, the universe, and everything!, relax! — ifindkarma @ 6:14 pm

Joyce and I have reflected a lot in the last fortnight.

Among other things, I recall this line a month ago from yishimcgee:

I feel like I failed… I feel no relief.

I wish I could speed the assuaging of her pain… but I cannot. Relief from the feeling of failure — especially when it accompanies loss of someone or something you love — comes only with the passage of time. That’s been my experience.

So today as Joyce, Kenneth, and I pulled two dozen boxes to the point of physical exhaustion, I found comfort in this passage Joyce sent me from Will Wright in the New York Times:

When I’m managing creative people, the way they relate to failure is very important. Because there are certain types of failure that you really want to celebrate. I personally learned a lot more from my failures than from my successes. And if you look at it that way, then all my failures, you know, in some sense brought me to my larger successes, because I recognized why I failed, and I learned from it. And so, at that point, you can even argue that it’s not a failure. It’s part of your learning process.

And so, even with interns, it’s kind of interesting to see how they relate to failure. Does it motivate them, do they go a different direction, do they give up or do they learn from it and get some insight and add it as part of their tool chest? In some sense it is an award that they’ve earned.

One of the questions I will usually ask somebody when I am interviewing them is, what was your biggest failure? And what did you learn from it and what would you have done differently? Within a team setting, a lot of times we’ll go down paths and we’ll prototype things. And at some point we’ll realize it was a bad branch and we have to back up and go take a different branch. Those forays — as a team, we can celebrate those.

Joyce and I have lost a lot of people recently. Billy and Rajeev, to name two.

How am I coping? Mainly through physical exercise and recalling 90-year-old wisdom:

No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up.

I used to sweat every little detail about every little thing. Now I find myself regularly asking, “In five years, will this matter?

I used to packrat things from every era of my life. Now I’ve started to throw things away. I’m struck by a feeling that until I let go of some things, I have no room to grow. So I look to get rid of anything that isn’t joyful, useful, or beautiful.

I think that’s part of how I’ll get myself back to the right state of mind so I can have the vision to see opportunities again. As Richard the Wise Man once said,

Being in the right place at the right time is actually all about being in the right state of mind.

Richard Wiseman says that only about 10% of life is purely random; the remaining 90% is defined by the way we think. Our attitudes produce our luck.

Failure happens. Think of Thomas Edison, who tried thousands of filaments while failing to make a working long-lasting light bulb, “I never failed. I simply discovered 10,000 ways not to do it!”

So yes, unexpected death and feelings of failure happen regularly. They are an inescapable part of this world.

It’s hard to lose people and things. It takes time to internalize what happened and integrate it all as part of ourselves.

I will remember to breathe, and I will remind myself to be patient because healing takes time.

And remember to get outside every day. Because miracles are waiting everywhere.


  1. Wow. I hope you’re getting a good night’s sleep as I write this — and that you’re off to a new day come Monday. I admire the optimism and caring you bring to each new day! Much respect to you and JP — Ro

    Comment by rkhare — June 15, 2009 @ 12:14 am

  2. […] read those sentiments over and over, and think to myself: Still, there’s that remaining 10-20% that is pure luck, and that’s the part we need […]

    Pingback by Be lucky. | ifindkarma. elegance is refusal. — August 29, 2013 @ 5:31 pm

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