7th July 2015

By Christina Lavers

Guest Writer for Wake Up World

“He who never makes mistakes, never makes anything.” ~ Old English proverb

A common stumbling block on the journey of life, a stumbling block that holds many of us back from voraciously pursuing our passions and dreams, is the fear of failure. This fear, which for most is closely linked with the uncomfortable feelings of shame and humiliation, has the ability to keep us entrenched on a course of mediocrity. By taking the safe road our ego is not threatened, we will not publically appear foolish, but we will also likely not discover the greatness I believe we all contain.

A couple of years ago I took a course on creativity and innovation offered by the University of Pennsylvania. One of the Professors, Jack Matson, taught us about what he termed ‘Intelligent Fast Failure’. In a nutshell, Professor Matson discovered that when he gave his engineering students a task to build the tallest structure possible using only paper, it was those who allowed themselves to experiment and experience many failed attempts who ultimately attained the greatest levels of success by the end of the project; while those who played it safe ended up with average results.


This concept of ‘Intelligent Fast Failure’ is very useful because it redefines failure as an integral part of a successful development process. Instead of being the end result, failure becomes a crucial step on the journey to mastery. This perspective makes it easier for us to not take failure personally. It encourages us to experiment and take risks, rather than sticking with what we know will yield safe, predictable results. When the ‘pieces fall down’, instead of an emotional response of disappointment, self-criticism, frustration and a sense of moving backwards, an ‘intelligent’ approach to failure makes it easier to analyze why the pieces fell down, and to move quickly into a new re-building stage, applying the lessons learned from past errors and misjudgments.

Many years ago I was involved in events that made me aware of the deeper aspects of life. This experience (which is described in Jump Into the Blue) in which I let go of my inhibitions brought me to incredible heights, but culminated in a very public ‘fall’. For a while afterwards I felt shamed, and was frightened off the unconventional path I had chosen to walk. However, after having connected with such deep aspects of my being I discovered there was really no going back; I could not return to a ‘safe’ box without feeling like my soul was being crushed. Through this experience I came to see life as an adventure. I realized that I am not here to play it safe; I am here to experiment and explore my reality. I grow and learn from my blunders as much as from my successes. Like Matson discovered with his engineering students, when we step back and look at our life from the perspective of the ‘big picture’, mistakes and failures are not an end in themselves (though they can sometimes feel like that in the moment), rather they are a fundamental part of the journey.

An important key in adopting this point of view is the ability to maintain a level of detachment, i.e. not to see failure as a reflection of self, but rather as an experiment result. Often we translate failure into ‘I am a failure’, which can have a detrimental effect on our sense of self-worth and self-esteem.  Whereas if we can step back from our failures, not take them personally, then they become opportunities for growth and learning.

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Another important key to being able to embrace failures in order to reveal their powerful gifts of understanding is to lessen our concern for how others perceive us. Remember that despite appearances sometimes, no one is perfect and everyone is struggling in some way along their journey. Most people are so caught up in their own challenges that the amount of time they actually spend consumed by the pursuits of another is probably pretty insignificant. The person who cringes, scorns or laughs at another’s failure is someone who is operating themselves from a space of fear; this reaction occurs because of their own unresolved issues. A person operating from a space of love will see the experience for what it is – a courageous, explorative step on a journey towards success.

Another reason to embrace both our own failures and the failures of others is that they add to the collective pool of knowledge. For example I believe that a pivotal aspect of my ‘fall’ during my intense spiritual exploration was my lack of grounding. By sharing my story I hope to assist other cosmic explorers to avoid that pitfall. If we cease viewing failures as something to be ashamed of, we will all benefit from the wisdom that can be shared.

I find it empowering to look at life from this perspective where failure is not something to be avoided at all costs, but instead a vital investigative step. I have discovered that the more times I allow myself to fall down, the easier and more quickly I am able to pick myself up, integrate the lessons, and move forward feeling more humble, more grounded, and wiser.

Right now, as the world’s problems seem to be spiraling out of control, we need to access the treasures we all carry within. We need to support one another, to encourage out of the box thinking, and allow for mistakes in order to find brilliant solutions. The bigger we dare to dream the higher the chance of failure, but if we learn to view failure as a steppingstone to success, the more likely it will be that we will ultimately see far-reaching, innovative and genius ideas come into fruition.

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