Monday, August 27, 2012

Willing to "Fail"

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

Ironically, I learned an important lesson similar to Mark Twain’s quote about twenty years ago. It was shortly after Ricky Henderson broke the record for most stolen bases in baseball. I lived near Oakland, and at the time, he was something of a hero to me.

I loved baseball so much as a kid that I attended a baseball camp. I was one of about three girls there. Every morning was trivia time where if you answered a question correctly, you got a pack of baseball cards. The question was, “who has been thrown out more times than anyone stealing bases?” I raised my hand, sure I knew the answer, and (I think because I was one of so few girls) was called on first. My answer was simple – Ricky Henderson.

All the boys laughed at me. How could I be so stupid?!?! The guy asking the question gave me a look and asked something similar to, “is that your final answer?” I remember shaking, but sticking to my convictions and saying yes.

I got a new pack of baseball cards!

Today, all my baseball cards are in my mom’s attic, only because they are so worthless I cannot sell them, and I know nothing about the current state of baseball, though I learned a lot on my recent vacation with my cousins. But obviously that lesson about trying has always stuck with me. Those who succeed in what they do will only get there by “failing” many, many times. We have to be willing to risk something in order to make it somewhere. And as Mark Twain reminds us, looking back on our lives we are going to be a lot more frustrated by what we chose not to do than any of the mistakes we made.

But the bigger question is, “what does it mean to fail?” In sales, it means you are willing to hear no many, many times. In stealing bases, it means you will be thrown out many, many times. In lawyering, it means losing an argument in front of a judge. But those are the nouns, what people think of as failures. They are not. They are truly teachers and opportunities to learn to listen more, tune in to how to do it better, and make another attempt.

In other words, what we think of as “failing” is really a moment to reflect and learn. And that is the yoga.

Asanas (yoga postures) are great reminders of this. What better example than Vrksasana (tree pose)? Asanas mimick life, and vrksasana mimics trees. One leg is rooted firmly into the ground, and the arms lift up to the sky. At times it feels solid, at times it feels as though you are swaying in the wind, and at other times it feels as though you are in Windy Welly, and you will be uprooted at any moment. It just depends on the day. But none of those are failures and none of them are right. They are all moments to reflect and moments to be conscious.

On the days when I feel solid in balance poses such as tree, I try to make them more difficult by closing my eyes (try it, it is fun!). On the days when I just cannot keep one leg lifted I try to laugh. But some days it is frustrating! Why is it on some days the pose is not steady? Why can I not be steady every day? That moment of frustration, of feeling like a failure, comes in. And that is the moment of reflection.

At least I tried!

It is those moments when we learn the most about ourselves. If we were always steady on the mat, we would not learn that it is ok to falter. If we could do every posture the first time we tried, we would learn nothing about our bodies and through our bodies about our deepest selves. If the first time we sat to meditate, our minds emptied fully we would never learn to watch our thoughts and recognize them as simply thoughts and not as what define us.

It is these moments of what we sometimes see as failures that truly teach us who we are and give us our strength to move forward. And it is these moments of what we see as failure that make us break records.  And it is these moments of what we see as failures upon which we look twenty years later and think, “I am glad I gave it a shot and learned something.”

Perhaps our "failures" are really our moments of perfection and yoga.


© Rebecca Stahl 2012, all rights reserved.


  1. Great post. I'm reminded not only of perfectionism and how personally destructive it can be, but also research I recall from graduate school on the fear of success, often in women. I think a major (positive) side effect of Title IX is a reduction in women's fear of success. I wonder if anyone is aware of recent research on the phenomenon.

    1. That's interesting, and I would be very interested to see some follow-up research. Thanks!