Dr. Dylan Morgan M.A.(Oxon.), D.Phil.(Oxon.), MNCP, MNCH

LEEDS Complementary Therapy Centre, 249a Otley Rd. LS16 5LQ. map
Photo of Dylan

Life Coach
Website all my own work. It has some 500,000 words and many links to check. If you find mistakes I would be pleased to know.
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What do you mean, "It's OK to fail"?

Dylan Morgan

Foreword by Brian May of Queen

Dylan - I am enjoying your words; I think you have something in common with the healthy 'recovery' thinking of Melody Beattie - her "The Language of Letting Go" is a book I carry with me always

As far as quotes, I love George Harrison's : "I asked to be successful - I never asked to be famous" (I think that's what he said!)

It highlights the fact that the two things are not the same. Sometimes I think Pink Floyd got it right - they always had a huge light show, but most of the lights were not on them! So the Floyd managed to make their work, their music, famous without becoming 'celebrity' faces.

As Queen we worked very hard to perfect our music and our shows, and for a long time we succeeded quite well in selling millions of records to happy people around the world, while staying out of the dreaded tabloids. That's because success isn't big news! It all changed later on, not because we got more successful, but because the gutter press were able to expose us when we began to have personal problems. THEN for a while we were dead meat - the kind which allows the flies to lay eggs, to turn into maggots. It took a long time for us to feel clean again after they had had their field day with us, and moved on to bring misery to other people in the public eye....

Recently I find great joy in the occasional day when I manage NOT to sign any bits of paper!

Good luck Dylan - I hope the book brings you what you really want - but be careful what you wish for!!!




Strange Title

"Strange title!" may be your first reaction. "Why that?"

The answer is that after trying a number of other titles I had settled on, "It's OK to fail... and be happy" But when I showed the book to a lot of people I found that though the book itself got a very good reception, there were many who thought that the title was too negative.

The pithy form of their reaction is, 'What do you mean "It's OK to fail..." Surely that is a lot of negative, defeatist, rubbish? Doesn't everybody want to be a success? No-one will buy a book on how to be a failure."

So I changed the title, on the suggestion of a good friend, to the one you have in your hands.

You will have to read on to find out how learning that "It's OK to fail..." actually prevents you from ever being a failure!

& & &

A good title is the title of a successful book. - Raymond Chandler


What this book is about:

The fear of Failure and the worship of Success together lead to billions of pounds worth of unhappiness in this country every year.
A change of attitude to failure and success will reduce this unhappiness.

I have suggested a monetary cost of unhappiness because the modern world tends not to take anything seriously unless there is a financial bottom line (a serious mistake in my view).

One way of estimating the cost of unhappiness is to look at the price people will pay to alleviate it. In fact people will spend many hundreds or even thousands of pounds a year to try to reduce their unhappiness.

A lot of this is spent on various therapies such as psychotherapy and counselling. A lot more is spent indirectly through taxes in the costs to the National Health Service of treating a wide variety of anxieties and depressions, not to mention treatment and medication for ailments that are related to the fear of failure, as we will see later. Alcohol, tobacco and drugs are often used to blot out unhappiness, and this cost should be included. In addition we should add a percentage of the cost of "retail therapy" - the buying new clothes or holidays or entertainments in order to lift the gloom of life.

I know that a change in attitude to success and failure can affect our level of unhappiness because I see it happening daily.

My work as a therapist includes helping people with such problems as anxiety, insomnia, depression, overweight, impotence, phobias, blushing, stammering, stopping smoking, panics, studying, examination nerves, sporting performance in many sports, social confidence, stress, obsessions of many kinds, hypochondria, jealousy, public speaking and so on.

What have all these amazingly varied concerns got in common? In each case there is a person who is unhappy about one aspect of life, though usually the rest of life is more or less satisfactory. In no case is the problem medical in the normal sense of the word, though some of them, like insomnia, are treatable up to a point with drugs. And in each case the attitude of people to themselves and the problem has a strong effect on it. The way people think can make the problem worse and the way they think can make it better.

As well as people with the above specific complaints I see others who are searching for the answers to general questions about their lives: Why am I unhappy? What should I be doing? Why do I feel myself a failure? Why am I not getting anywhere?

Again there is no sense of there being a problem which can be treated by a doctor or a psychiatrist: there is no medical or psychological illness. The problem lies very much in the domain of our attitude to our lives.

Now I, and thousands of other professionals who may be called psychotherapists or counsellors or hypnotherapists or Life Coaches, have various techniques for helping people to change the way they think in order to make such problems better. We need different ways because people are varied and complex, even though the symptoms may be similar and simple. For example, it is very unlikely that the same approach will be useful for anxiety caused by bereavement after a lifetime of marriage and anxiety caused by being unable to approach the girl of your dreams.

In this book I am focusing on one single theme that is relevant to a very large number - I am not saying all - of the people who come to me. That theme is failure and its converse success. My view, dramatically stated, is, I repeat: The fear of Failure and the worship of Success together lead to billions of pounds worth of unhappiness in this country every year.

I hope that this book will help you to see the truth of this opinion. I also hope that it will help you, personally, to improve your own life by taking some steps towards the happiness which comes from being able, as Kipling says, to "Meet with Triumph and Disaster, and treat those two impostors just the same."

I will next outline the main themes that you will find repeated in a variety of ways throughout the book.

One of the BIG problems people have with the experience of a failure is the mistake of thinking that it makes them a failure. In fact it is impossible to start anything new without making mistakes. And having many failures, in most things, is the norm in life. The phrase in the title of the book - "It's OK to fail..." - is designed to characterise a state of mind which accepts that failures are inevitable but does not take them to heart; does not feel paralysing guilt; does not feel "I am a failure."

In my experience, people who have the "It's OK to fail..." attitude learn more from mistakes, move on from them with fewer regrets and are overall far happier with themselves.

The three dots after the word "fail" are very important to such people. They do not have a "full stop" mentality. Any failure always leads on to something else: new ideas, new directions, new activities or new freedoms.

The second big problem centers on the fear of failure that is so common. Notice that the word is "fear" of failure, not just a mild aversion to it, which may well act as an incentive to constructive action. This fear not only prevents us from doing many things that would lead on to happiness but actively causes a lot of the problems in the long list above. Many a student does badly in exams, for example, for no other reason than that the fear of failure gets them into such a state of panic that they cannot think clearly.

The other side of the coin from failure is Success. I will often use a capital-S for this to emphasise that I am not talking about small daily successes but the kind of big Success that people dream of - becoming famous, a lottery win, being The Best and so on.

Here I observe two things. The first is that Success, if achieved, is often bought at the expense of happiness and indeed humanity. The second is that the dream of a Success is very rarely realised and consequently such dreams all too often lead to unhappiness and a quite unnecessary feeling of being a failure.

A final idea that you will find from time to time in the book is that unhappiness is nearly always a result of a big gap between the way life is for us and the way we would like it to be.

A worship of Success makes our ambitions and expectations very high. Consequently the way we would like life to be gets a long way out of reach. A fear of failure, on the other hand, often incapacitates us from thinking clearly and doing things that would improve life. So together the two make the unhappiness gap bigger. And that is why I say that the fear of Failure and the worship of Success are together responsible for a lot of unhappiness.

That is the content of this book in nutshell. The purpose of the book is somewhat different: it is to enable you to feel free of the two black ravens that perch on so many shoulders. One of them caws things like "If you fail or make a mistake it will be the end. It is unforgivable." The other one's repertoire includes, "You MUST succeed. Look at everyone else. They are more successful (or richer or fitter or slimmer or more popular or famous or powerful or intelligent or are better parents or lovers or wives or husbands or have better jobs or houses or cars). You must do or be the same."

Most of us have heard these two ravens in one form or another. They make life miserable. (If you are free from them - Congratulations!) On the pages of this book you will find a different thought or story or poem or quotations which will help you to see how these ravens operate in different people's lives. My hope is that among these there will be some pages that get very close to your heart, while you tolerantly allow that other pages, however irrelevant to you, may be of more value to another reader. The end result should be for you to see very clearly how the ravens are operating in your life. It is only when you know that the ravens are there that you start to say "Shoo!"

You may also see more clearly that there are some people in your life who are doing the job of one or other of the ravens. If they are close to you then you cannot actually say "Shoo!" but by understanding what is going on you can become more immune to the demoralising effect of their words.

Finally, there are two important things to remember as you read on. The first is that "It's OK to fail..." does not mean "It's OK to be a failure". This is precisely the opposite of the true message, which is that it is OK to have failures, but they do NOT make you a failure. Neither does the phrase mean, "It's OK to do nothing." That again is the opposite of the true message which is that we should seize the opportunity to do more, unhampered by the crippling fear of failure.

In his book "The Art of Happiness" the Dalai Lama says, "I believe that the very purpose of our life is to seek happiness." I started writing this book as part of my own search for happiness, entirely for my own benefit. I felt a need to sort out my own past and priorities in life; to get its various successes and failures into perspective, and so on.

I found the result helpful. And then I started to find clients who found one or other of the thoughts helpful as well, increasing their happiness. As it happens I find that one of my chief sources of happiness is in enabling others to be happy. (This is not a virtue in me any more than liking to restore old furniture would be a virtue in another - it is a matter of taste.) And I am lucky to be able to do this in my life - having failed to realise an earlier life plan which was to be an academic scientist.

So I developed and changed the original pages written for myself to make them more generally readable, in the hope of helping a few other people to be happier. I would be happy if just some people got into the habit of thinking "It's OK to fail...", linking the thought to the pages of this book that mean most to them. I believe it will lead them to suffer less from guilt, frustration and despondency and break out of the vicious circles that drive many of the problems mentioned above.

I hope that you, though I may never know you, will be one. If you live in the UK, though, some simple mathematics tells us that, believe it or not, there is every chance that one of your acquaintances knows someone who knows one of my acquaintances. So given that an increase in happiness is contagious, it is not too hard for any increase in your happiness to filter, indirectly, back to me!

I have added some quotations from other people which have helped me and may help others. These should show that the ideas in this book are NOT original. They have been in the mouths of the wise from ancient times. They have been rediscovered and repeated and relearned down the ages. They have stood the test of time. All I have done is to re-clothe the ideas in a more modern language and format. I hope you will find it refreshing.

& & &

All truly wise thoughts have been thought already thousands of times; but to make them truly ours, we must think them over again honestly, till they take root in our personal experience. - Goethe


It's OK to fail to read this book properly!

Most children are taught that the only right way to read a book is to start at the beginning and then go on page by page to the end.

For some books - novels, for example - that is the only way that makes sense. But this book is different. The effect is built up from a hundred small page-sized brushstrokes, but the order they are applied makes no real difference.

ANY page can be read first and then you can jump to any other. Start at the back if you like! It is a good book for reading in odd moments of time. With a snack; on the train; while the commercials are on TV; just before sleep: each page is complete in itself and yet is a significant part of the whole.

There may be just a few uncorrected typographical errors, mistakes with grammar and so on. Most published books have a few, I notice. If the book has gone to press as I first typed it would have contained many more mitsakes. But the fct that I am a bit of a filaure at typing has not stopped the book. Like all authors it is simply a matter of going over it to improve on poor early dafts, which are the norm in life. (This paragraph excepted!) In real life there are a lot of loose ends, rough edges, weeds and imperfections but It's OK to fail... and then tidy up.

Life is a lot more fun if we learn to accept these simple facts and enjoy a life in which nothing is naturally perfect. I'm not perfect, you're not perfect, they're not perfect and the world's not perfect, and nothing ever really succeeds in the way fiction and films can suggest! This book isn't perfect either, so just read the bits that suit you.

& & &

A man ought to read just as inclination leads him; for what he reads as a task will do him little good. - Dr. Samuel Johnson


Freedom for the normal person

This book is not for the very few who scale the pinnacles of society; for those who strive and with luck and effort and sacrifice make it to the top. They probably would not have the time to read it anyway!

No, this book is for the normal person. The normal person who has been made to feel guilty in a thousand small ways because he or she does not measure up in one way or another.

The normal man who has fallen behind the others in the rat race at work.

The normal person who cannot live up to family expectations.

The normal woman who is made to feel guilty because she does not have the figure of a model.

The normal person whose lifestyle cannot match up to those shown in TV adverts.

To such a person this book is about FREEDOM.

FREEDOM to make mistakes without the burden of hopeless guilt and intolerable stress

FREEDOM to accept small successes without comparing them with others' big ones.

FREEDOM to make mistakes without it resulting in a continual feeling of inferiority

FREEDOM from straining endlessly to buy the imaginary happiness promised by advertisers.

FREEDOM from the illusions that to fail at something is the greatest of sins and that Success is the root of all happiness.

& & &

Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes. - Mahatma Ghandi


Failing does not make you a failure!

This is one BIG idea to get straight.

If you tell a child, especially in angry tones, that it has done something wrong, then it feels bad and thinks that you have said that IT is wrong.

Getting something wrong does not make you wrong. Failing at something does not make you a failure. Losing at something does not make you a loser.

Bill has failed his driving test. He thinks that this makes him a Failure. He hangs his head in shame. He avoids talking to friends. Ben has also failed his driving test. He tells people about it quite openly. They talk over with him what went wrong. He gets some advice, some of which he learns from.

Penny has been stood up on a date. She thinks this makes her a Failure. She goes to her room and weeps. She won't go out to meet her friends. Jenny has also been stood up on a date. She is irritated and upset. She tells people all she knows about the boy. They talk it over. She gets to see what was wrong with him, and how she could have known it earlier. She learns a lot about men and herself which will stand her in good stead in later, better, relationships.

Bill and Penny confuse making a mistake with being a mistake. Ben and Jenny accept that It's OK to fail at times and to learn from their mistakes: it does not make them failures.

& & &

Remember that failure is an event not a person. - Zig Ziglar

Notice the difference between what happens when a man says to himself, I have failed three times, and what happens when he says, I am a failure. - S. A. Hayakawa


The Fear of Failure

The Fear of Failure is the root of much unhappiness. The Fear of Failure prevents progress. The Fear of Failure inhibits every step forward.

But once you have embraced failure, welcomed it as a guide, accepted its role in life: then there is no more fear.

You can start to be happy again. You can start to progress. You can start to take confident steps forward.

That is the simple truth to be found within these pages.

If just a few people stop feeling the fear of failure which is the other side of the coin to the worship of Success then the world will be a happier place.

The fear of failure leads to tensions and stresses. It leads to a rigid state of mind in which there seems to be no way out. It leads to insomnia and worse.

All too often the fear of failure prevents any action at all, which will inevitably lead to more failures, more fear and a downward spiral.

I do not think that anyone can finally get rid of the fear of anything by simply running away. Some people chase after success as if it will finally free them from the fear of failure. They will run to the end of their lives. But in practice the only way of getting rid of any fear is to face the thing feared.

In this book we face the fear of failure in a hundred different ways, and in that way reduce the fear. "It's OK to fail..." does not mean that we need enjoy a failure or actively seek it. But it does mean that it is not as bad as we fear.

& & &

Those who avoid doing something because they are afraid of failing, have already failed. - William Sterner


Accept failures?

It often takes a lot of work to achieve a string of successes, and a lot of luck as well.

Since failures are the most common of commodities and are free we do not need to work for them, it is a matter of just being prepared to accept it: It's OK to fail...

But what does this mean? To many the phrase has negative overtones: feelings of dejection, apathy, loss of hope. But it cannot be emphasised too much that this is because they confuse accepting failures with being a failure.

I mean by "accepting failures" the following.

It is a state of mind.

It is being able to say, "I did not manage that." without feeling guilty.

It is being able to be happy about, "That is good enough."

It is being able to say, "I was wrong," without losing something of yourself.

It is being able to feel sadness because of a lost dream and then move on.

It is being able to accept that neither you or the world is perfect and to live happily with the fact.

It is seeing that saying "It's OK to fail.." prevents you from being a failure.

& & &

Not many people are willing to give failure a second opportunity. They fail once and it is all over. The bitter pill of failure is often more than most people can handle. If you are willing to accept failure and learn from it, if you are willing to consider failure as a blessing in disguise and bounce back, you have got the essential of harnessing one of the most powerful success forces. - Joseph Sugarman



Unhappiness is a seemingly unbridgeable gap between

the life we have . . . . . . and . . . . . the life we desire.

Think about it.

If the gap is small and easy we are not unhappy because we have a good chance of doing something about it. And there can then be a real happiness in closing the small gap.

If the gap is big, but we can see a way to cross it in time then, provided only that we start to build the bridge, we can find satisfaction in our progress.

But if the gap is so big that there is no way we can see of bridging it then unhappiness is inevitable. We become embittered, or despondent or envious or resentful.

The idea of Success that I am attacking in this book is NOT the idea of making small improvements from time to time. That is a matter of closing small gaps, of jumping small ditches. Neither am I attacking the climbing of a ladder to a goal, where each rung is a small manageable step above the last.

What is simply damaging for most people is an idea of Success (often promoted by other people with something to sell or gain), which is Big and Wonderful and brings Love and Living Happily Ever After.

The BIG dream is easier to sell than a little dream. It is so big and glittering and all-devouring . But the price you pay for the big dream is so often a BIG unhappiness when the dream is found to be only a dream.

& & &

Unhappiness is best defined as the difference between our talents and our expectations. - Edward De Bono

There is no calamity greater than lavish desires. - Lao-tzu


Books on Success

In my job, which is about helping people to cope a bit better with life, through counselling, hypnotherapy and so on, I often come across courses on HOW TO BE SUCCESSFUL.

These may be accompanied by pictures of a bronzed American running the course who is clearly successful. Like the body-building supermen of the past he was generally a seven-stone failure, and then found the Secret of Success. Now he has Money, Fame, Fortune and Admiring Followers hanging on his every word. I am sure all that is true.

Despite all his wealth and success he remains the same generous-hearted man he always was and is prepared to let YOU into the secrets of how he did it. It is an attractive package, wouldn't you like to learn from him and be like him?

Some people benefit, as you may see from their "raving" testimonials, (that rather surprising word was used in one promotion!) Perhaps you are one of them? If so, Congratulations!

But let us spare a thought for the thousands of unhappy people who have tried such courses, found a temporary enthusiasm, and then fallen back again.

Sadly they then feel even worse than before, since the course makes it clear that ANYONE can be successful if they try. So they think "Why aren't I? I have spent as much money as anyone else (increasing the bank balance of Mr. Successful) and yet it has not worked. I MUST be HOPELESS."

& & &

When you enroll with ****** ****** & Associates, you will learn how to get all the MONEY, LOVE, LUCK, CONFIDENCE and SUCCESS you would ever want... IMMEDIATELY! - from a promotional website.


Failing is the norm

Fact: Out of every 100 mail shots on average about 98 are a complete failure. If just 2 get a response that is good going.

Yes. All that rubbish that comes through your letter box at such enormous expense is binned by most other people too.

Businessmen have to live with this fact. We might as well all live with the fact that 98% of what we do can in no sense be called a success.

Ask yourself how many sperm "succeed". They are outnumbered by the astronomically greater number who "fail".

The lesson is that "failing" is in fact the norm in life. Anyone who suggests the opposite does not face facts.

It is normal to apply for many jobs before you get an interview. It is normal to fail at many interviews before you get a job. It is normal to have several boyfriends/girlfriends before you find the one with whom you can settle into marriage. In shopping, it is normal to fail to find the exact thing you want in the first shops you enter. It is normal in learning to play golf to hit enormously more bad shots than great shots. It is normal in writing a book to cross out many of the phrases that first come to you. It is normal to meet many people before finding someone who turns out to be a true friend.

When we realise these truths then we are relieved of an enormous burden: the feeling that there is something somehow wrong with us. Remember that everyone else has had their ration of failures to go with any successes you may notice them to have.

Successes are praised, but failures are the norm, so we may as well feel comfortable with this fact.

& & &

Success is 99 percent failure. - Soichiro Honda



When Rosie was a girl she dreamed of becoming a ballerina. She was good at dancing and worked hard at it. She suffered intense training and fasting for years. Did this lead to success? What do you think? How many successful ballerinas are there? And how many girls like Rosie are there? Was she happy?

When Tom was a teenage he played the guitar. He saw himself becoming a famous pop star. He bought a lot of expensive equipment. He formed a band. He played gigs. Did this lead to success? What do you think? How many singers make their names? How many boys like Tom are there? Was he happy?

Mary was a pretty girl who was encouraged to see herself as one day becoming a top model. She devoted all her teenage years to this ambition, thinking only of her figure and fashion. Did she become a successful model? What do you think? How many models make it to the lucrative top? Was she happy?

As a boy Bill dreamed of becoming an England footballer. He imagined the glory and the fame and the cars and the clothes and all the rest. Like many other boys he worked hard at it. Did this lead to success? What do you think? How many footballers make even a decent living? Was he happy?

Rosie's friend just enjoyed dancing, Tom had a friend who just enjoyed playing the organ, Mary had a friend who just liked to dress well and Bill's friend just enjoyed playing football at the weekend. They are failures by the standards of Rosie and Tom and Mary and Bill. But since they do not have a big gap between who they are and who they want to be they are happy with their lives.

& & &

Most people would succeed in small things, if they were not troubled by great ambitions. - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


It takes more courage to fail than to succeed

Which is the more admirable: courage or cowardice?

How much courage does it take to invite people into a perfect house? How much does it take to invite people into one that it frankly a mess?

How much courage does it take to accept an award or a rise? How much to smile after being sacked?

The fact is that it takes no strength of character at all to accept a success and often admirable strength to accept a failure.

But, you might say, surely a success is the result of being courageous? The answer to this involves reflecting that if the path towards success happens to be an easy one, then there is no questions of needing courage. But if it is a hard one, involving setbacks and difficulties, then we are back with needing the courage to overcome these obstacles: which are nearly always temporary failures under another name. So again it is the courage to accept failures which is the crucial factor.

It generally takes real courage to face the inevitable troubles of life and your own imperfections, and real courage to say, "It's OK to fail... and then carry on." But afterwards you gain the reward of bravery: freedom from fear - but often also successes as well.

& & &

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts. - Winston Churchill

Life is mostly froth and bubble,
Two things stand like stone,
Kindness in another's trouble,
Courage in your own. - Adam Lindsay Gordon


Successful men

Ozymandias of Egypt

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand
Half sunk, a shatter'd visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock'd them and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
- Percy Bysshe Shelley

Was Ozymandias a Success?

& & &

I have now reigned above fifty years in victory or peace, beloved by my subjects, dreaded by my enemies, and respected by my allies. Riches and honour, power and pleasure, have waited on my call, nor does any earthly blessing appear to have been wanting to my felicity. In this situation, I have diligently numbered the days of pure and genuine happiness that have fallen to my lot; they amount to fourteen. O man, place not thy confidence in this present world. - The Caliph Abdelraham


Inferiority complexes

I often come across people who suffer from the misery of feeling inferior in some way.

One client was shouted at when she was 11 years old by a teacher for spelling a word wrongly. It gave her the conviction that she was a terrible speller. Many years later she was still carrying a dictionary around with her all the time to check practically every word she ever wrote. It made her life a misery.

The inferiority complex may not be about spelling. It may be about arithmetic. It may be about drawing or singing or cooking. It is often about speaking in public, or stammering, or blushing. And it is very often about appearance.

All such people have taken a small failure or imperfection and think of it self-consciously as a large central feature of their identity. It therefore lowers their self-esteem drastically.

And such people have an overwhelmingly strong feeling that "It's not OK to fail at ...." This feeling is so strong that it arouses shame and/or guilt. They then focus on that one thing that is wrong in themselves and do not see that everyone else falls short in some way or another. No-one is perfect. Each of us is inferior in some respect to millions of others.

Though it may not be easy to get there, the answer is to eliminate the NOT and for them to accept that "It's OK to fail... to be as good as everyone in that way." They can then start to be happy with the many other things that they can be satisfied with about themselves.

& & &

Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing. - Denis Waitley


From the Bhagavad Gita - a great Hindu scripture

He whose undertakings are free from anxious desire and fanciful thought, whose work is made pure in the fire of wisdom: he is called wise by those who see.

In whatever work he does such a man in truth has peace: he expects nothing, he relies on nothing, and ever has fullness of joy.

He has no vain hopes, he is the master of his soul, he surrenders all he has, only his body works: he is free from sin.

He is glad with whatever God gives him, and he has risen beyond the two contraries here below; he is without jealousy, and in success or in failure he is one: his works bind him not.

And Rudyard Kipling in his poem If echoes a part of those words of wisdom:

"If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same.
You'll be a Man, my son!"

Sacred and secular writings agree that we should not identify ourselves with our successes or our failures: they come and they go. They agree that triumphs and disasters are things that happen to us: we should not imagine that they make us a success or a failure in ourselves. They agree that the full human being is one who is able to say "It's OK to succeed at... It's OK to fail at... But I am the same whichever happens."

& & &

We exaggerate misfortune and happiness alike. We are never so wretched or so happy as we say we are. - Balzac


Trying to fail?

Some people will read this book with the idea in mind that it is designed to encourage people to be lazy and do next to nothing. Or, even worse, that it will make people desire to fail as much as possible and even make them try to fail in the way that many today try to succeed.

In fact the message of this book, repeated in many different ways, is quite different, as a fair-minded reader will see.

I am not saying that we should desire failures, but rather that if we accept the fact that there are bound to be daily failures then we will lead a happier and better life.

And I say that having the serenity to accept our daily failures - It's OK to fail at times - without self-criticism and guilt is to gain happiness.

For prolonged guilt and fear of failures are a heavy burden on the soul, responsible for so much of the lack of energy and motivation in the world, and a cause of much so-called laziness. And so I say that being able to accept the failures liberates energy that can be used to live life with some joy.

And of course there is no question of putting effort into trying to fail, no need to try to make things imperfectly. Nature will take care of that for us!

By all means try to make things a little better. Give things your best shot. If there is anything that you can enjoy improving, improve it. If there is any friendship you can deepen, deepen it.

But since friends can occasionally be fickle and things easily go wrong, we should NOT take it personally if any of these attempts fails at times.

& & &

The only man who never makes a mistake is the man who never does anything - Theodore Roosevelt


Living a lie

Anyone who does not acknowledge a failure ends up living a lie. Consciously or unconsciously he or she will be acting falsely. There is a price to pay for this, because if there is one form of personality that is universally disliked it is the false one. "He is two-faced!" "She is insincere!" By contrast a self-confesses rogue leaves most people relatively happy: at least they know where they stand with him.

Lie detectors work because the body responds to the inner stress of telling a lie with a very slight increase in sweating. This changes the resistance of the skin which is easily detected

However most people are also pretty good lie detectors. We can detect a slight change in the tone of voice. We can detect a slight change in the way the eyes move: they are usually more shifty and meet our gaze less often. We notice the way the hand covers the mouth more. Some of us may even emulate a dog and sense the slight scent of nervousness that lying produces.

We may not do this consciously, of course, but the overall effect is to make us uneasy in the presence of someone who is lying.

And sadly, we do not often think to ourselves, "This person is probably low in self-confidence and is trying to hide something quite innocent that they feel marks them out as a failure."

No, we just tend to move away from them and say less and make polite excuses. All of these reactions will almost certainly be seen by the sufferer as evidence that we have noticed and responded to the thing that they feel bad about. So they feel worse about it.

But if they admit to themselves and us that they feel inadequate in some way then everybody can relax. There are no more lies. It is OK to fail in some way, we all do it.


The Pyramids

If you go to Egypt you MUST see the pyramids (I am told). What an achievement! How wonderful! But what do they tell us? Some might say that they are a triumph of the human spirit.

But instead of thinking of the few Pharaohs, just see the many men whose lives were crushed by the toil of lifting the stones. Just as the one stone at the top of the pyramid is only there because of the support of the millions below, the desire of the one Pharaoh was sated by the daily drudgery of countless slaves. Think of the whips and the pain and the suffering.

We have no reason to suppose that the Pharaohs had the slightest concern for those beneath them.

Have things changed? History does not record much humanitarian behaviour in those men who owned the iron foundries and coal mines in the Welsh valleys where my grandparents lived. Stalin was not a Pharaoh and the Russians not slaves, but what does history record of his care for them?

Have things change in the modern world? Drug barons and arms dealers clearly have scant regard for human life. But are the Directors of cigarette companies much better? Are there no Heads of State who act like the Pharaohs, putting their own glory before the needs of the people? And is the desire for personal advancement at whatever cost to others dead in the world?

The dream of worldly Success is such a heady drug that I fear it has caused and will yet cause untold suffering to the millions in countless ways. And perhaps, on a smaller scale, you know a petty dictator building his petty pyramid at your expense?

& & &

Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men. - Lord Acton


It's OK to fail...

I am indebted to Jeremy Coyle, an ex-client, for first handing me the phrase "It's OK to fail" when I was writing this book. But I have since found that others have used it as well. My only small originality is to add the dots: It's OK to fail...

For him this phrase had the important implication that it meant that he could let go of failures in his past that nothing could be done about

It is, of course, quite right to spend some time after a failure asking such things as, "Can I put things right?" "What is the moral of that mistake?" and so on. But once you have found the obvious answers, and acted on them where appropriate, it is time to move on. What is the point in going over and over it?

If you think that failure is not an option - it is not OK to fail - if you think that somehow you have to be perfect and never make a mistake, then you are stuck with every mistake you have made. You seem vainly to be thinking that there is something that you can do to change the past. You feel that somehow by wanting it enough you can make your record perfect again.

But that is not possible. There is really no such thing as a perfect record. Failing is OK because it happens to everyone.

Failing is part of living. So accept a mistake when you have made one. Learn from it if there is anything to learn. Correct anything that you can. Remember that it does not make YOU a failure. Then draw a line and move on.

& & &

Don't be afraid to fail. Don't waste energy trying to cover up failure. Learn from your failures and go on to the next challenge. It's OK to fail. If you're not failing, you're not growing. - H. Stanley Judd.


Many other people have thought similar things....(1)

Failure is, in a sense, the highway to success, inasmuch as every discovery of what is false leads us to seek earnestly after what is true, and every fresh experience points out some form of error which we shall afterwards carefully avoid. - John Keats

We come to learn that it does not pay to grieve too much over our errors. Ordinarily we try to do the best we can.- T.L. Masson

Failure is good. It's fertilizer. Everything I've learned about coaching, I've learned from making mistakes. - Rik Pitino

There are difficulties in your path. - Be thankful for them. - They will test your capabilities of resistance; you will be impelled to persevere from the very energy of opposition. - But what of him that fails? - What does he gain? - Strength for life. - The real merit is not in the success, but in the endeavour; and win or lose, he will be honoured and crowned. - W.M. Punshon

We mount to heaven mostly on the ruins of our cherished schemes, finding our failures were successes. - A.B. Alcott

The biggest job we have is to teach a newly hired employee how to fail intelligently. We have to train him to experiment over and over and to keep on trying and failing until he learns what will work. - Charles Kettering

Life, like war, is a series of mistakes, and he is not the best Christian nor the best general who makes the fewest false steps. Poor mediocrity may secure that, but he is best who wins the most splendid victories by the retrieval of mistakes. - Frederick William Robertson.


Jesus was a failure

Once upon a time there was a clever young boy. He must have been the pride and joy of his Jewish mother. At the age of 12 he was already holding his own in debates with the religious leaders of his time.

By the age of 33 he was making a name for himself by his preaching. Thousands were flocking to him to hear him speak.

Even better was his ability as a healer. He could heal by touch and even by his word. What a bright future lay ahead!

But within just a few years it all came tumbling down. He failed to show proper respect to the authorities - a failure that all authorities take a dim view of, I notice. He was arrested, tried, convicted and then sentenced to death.

(Oh, if only he had been born 2,000 years later in a civilised country like the United States with all the advantages of TV stations and publicity machines: he could have made a fortune and hired expensive attorneys to defend him!)

But perhaps the really strange thing about Jesus was the way in which he accepted the ignominy of this massive Failure in the eyes of the world. He did not complain. He did not resist. He accepted it with open arms. He was not a failure.

Of course to many Christians his life is an example: only those who are prepared to give up life will gain it. Only those who can embrace worldly failure can find any real success.

& & &

Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. - John 12:24-25


The price of Success

Experiments have been done with children as follows.

Two groups of children were given the same drawing materials to play with. The first group was left alone to do whatever they wanted. The other group were awarded glossy certificates for good drawing.

What do you think the long term effects were?

Once the experiment was over the first group continued to enjoy drawing. The second group, who had been rewarded for their "successes", lost interest.

That is one of the aspects of human psychology - confirmed by many other experiments - which surprised me at first. Does it surprise you?

But when you think about it, don't we all get more satisfaction from, and in the long term will go further with, activities we choose for their own sakes. Those things we do for an often spurious goal of "success" lead to no lasting satisfaction.

Someone who loves something for itself, be it gardening or astronomy, is going to get some reward every day. They may, or may not, in time become leaders in their fields as they get better without noticing it. By contrast the person who is aiming only at Success, with no real love for the subject, finds rewards come infrequently if at all.

& & &

I honestly think it is better to be a failure at something you love than to be a success at something you hate. - George Burns

Just don't give up trying to do what you really want to do. Where there is love and inspiration, I don't think you can go wrong. - Ella Fitzgerald


Failure in weight control

Anorexics are people who take the rule "It is not OK to fail" to extremes. For them the control of their weight becomes a total obsession. Nothing is more important than losing weight. If they lose that struggle, then they feel they have lost everything.

It is not at all easy to persuade the anorexic that "It's OK to fail...", and yet something like that will have to be achieved if they are to be rescued.

There are many thousands of other people who are not anorexic but for whom diets nevertheless create problems because issues of success and failure have become far too intense. They stick rigidly to diets - for a time. Then one day, in a moment of weakness, they step over the rigid line. Within minutes they regret it, "I am a failure!" they think. "I will now be fat again." they moan. And eat some more, because that is what fat failures do. They spend hours feeling guilty and "beating themselves up" psychologically without realising that it is those hours that do most of the damage.

Within a short time they have regained all the weight that they lost, and have lost an extra ration of self-esteem.

There are other people who also need to keep an eye on what they eat, but have a different attitude. They know when they have eaten in a way that will put on weight. They do not get in a state about it and remain calm. They may learn something - "I let myself get too hungry - won't do that again." They will work out plans to cope with it such as, "I'll go for an enjoyable workout at the gym or a long walk at the weekend." They do not have a problem with weight - "It's OK to fail to eat sensibly at times..".

& & &

Food is an important part of a balanced diet. - Fran Lebowitz


Life is a roller coaster ride

It is an observable fact that life is commonly more like a roller-coaster ride than a smooth highway. It is therefore not surprising if a time of riding high is followed by a period of falling low.

There are two opposing attitudes to roller coaster rides. There are many people for whom they are the greatest thrills. There are others who avoid them at all costs.

And something similar is true of life. There are those who not only accept the ups and downs of life but find themselves seeking lives where such ups and downs are common: actors, for example, who might be applauded on stage one day and then be unemployed the next.

There are others whose whole life is a misery because they are desperately afraid of the lows, the failures, the mistakes. They are in a state of perpetual, anxious vigilance against anything that could shake their fragile security.

In ancient times, and in many countries, fate or fortune was seen as a turning wheel on which men and women, kings and potentates, countries or principalities might rise or fall or rise again. This is another picture of the same cyclical nature of life which I have called a roller coaster ride.

To say "It's OK to fail..." is to accept that there will be lows, there will be falls, there will be failures. BUT it also says, "That's OK. It is part of the show. It goes with the territory. It is nothing personal. It happens to us all. I'm just part of the human race. And from here the only way is up."

& & &

The wheel of fortune turns round incessantly, and who can say to himself, "I shall today be uppermost." - Confucius


Success-worship is a virus

You could see this book as, among other things, providing an antidote to the virus which is the dream of capital-S Success.

A virus spreads from person to person. A virus, though not always fatal, reduces your sense of well-being and happiness. There is generally an incubation period during which you do not notice anything wrong. There is no early warning as there is with chemical poisons where taste or smell often alert us to danger.

The mental virus of Success-worship can be caught from others who have it, or by watching a film with a Happy-and- Successful-ever-after ending, or reading about a Successful person - artist, writer, football player and so on. Or it can be deliberately introduced by someone who knows that he can sell better to those who are infected.

To begin with there are no damaging signs. It takes time for the virus to produce its toxins. Then you may notice an increasing unhappiness with life as it is, and the simple things in life; the neglect of family and friends, and an increasing obsession with Success. Selfishness, envy, greed and forms of paranoia then become more evident. Later stages of the illness, when it becomes apparent that the Success was only an illusion, are characterised by bouts of anger and depression.

This book may just help your mind's immune system to recognise the virus of Success-worship and then to eliminate it, just as your body's immune system kills off any virus that it recognises.

& & &

The moral flabbiness born of the exclusive worship of the Bitch-Goddess success. That - with the squalid cash interpretation put on the world success - is our national disease. - William James ("The Father of American Psychology")


Penicillin was a mistake

Penicillin has probably saved more lives than any other single medical discovery.

And yet it was the result of a mistake. Alexander Flemming was careless in his laboratory. He had left a culture dish of staphylococci bacteria uncovered in his laboratory. This led to it being contaminated by airborne mould.

It is easy to imagine that if that happened in a modern laboratory as a result of the carelessness of an assistant the consequence would be, "You have failed to follow the lab rules. Throw this culture away and do it again!"

In fact, of course, Flemming, like many of the best scientists, did not think in terms of simple success and failure. He therefore noticed something interesting. Around the patches of mould the bacteria had been killed.

That small observation led him to investigate the mould further, and he found that it produced a chemical, which he named penicillin after the mould Penicillium notatum.

It took some years and the hard work of many others before penicillin became available in large quantities. But it is probably true that without Flemming's "failure" and his attitude to it, penicillin would not have been discovered for a generation or more.

It's OK to fail sometimes if you realise that it can show you things that you would otherwise never see.

& & &

Mistakes are the portals of discovery. - James Joyce

The most important of my discoveries has been suggested to me by my failures. - Sir Humphrey Davy



Stress to the engineer is what happens when there are two opposing forces acting against each other on some material. A piece of steel can be stressed by machine by either pulling at each end or pushing at each end. Strain is the physical effect the stress has on the material.

When a person is stressed it is because there are two voices within saying opposite things. They might easily be, "Go to work!" and "I want to stay at home!"

You can't stress a material by a single force: you will only start it moving. And the same applies to people: if there is just one force on us we tend to move without strain. It is only if there is an opposition that we become stressed and feel strain.

A great deal of the stress in life is a result of the battle between on the one hand what we feel we OUGHT to do, have GOT to do or MUST do and on the other hand the things that we WANT to do, LIKE to do or DESIRE to do.

The fear of failure is often the whip behind OUGHT - GOT - MUST making them seem irresistible. And the worship of Success - material, sexual or social - generally intensifies the WANT - LIKE - DESIRE into cravings that also seem irresistible. Since these two forces are generally opposed, together they intensify the stress and strain of life.

And so a wonderful antidote to so many of the stress of life is to smile and say, "It's OK to fail to do everything I feel I ought to, and OK to fail to have everything I want to have." That leads to satisfaction and happiness.

& & &

He is richest who is content with the least, for content is the wealth of nature. - Socrates


A successful failure

Thomas Edison was a failure. He was expelled from school. And that was not for any misdemeanour but because his teachers regarded him as retarded.

I have no idea how they came to that conclusion. Perhaps he asked too many questions? Perhaps he was quiet and dreamy? Perhaps he had a poor memory for trivial facts? Oddly enough Einstein was not thought to be much good by his teachers, either.

. However, perhaps the school did the right thing in sending him on his way because he ended up with an amazing 1069 patents including the ticker tape system used by stock exchanges for many years and of course the electric light bulb.

You may well have read that he had some trouble finding a substance that he could use for the critical element in the light bulb. The problem is to find something that would glow very brightly when electricity passed through it but not burn up.

He must have thought a lot about it, but also tried lots of different things.

The first thing he tried "failed". The second thing he tried "failed". The third thing he tried ... The thousandth thing he tried "failed", the two thousandth thing he tried "failed"...

But that was actually NOT how the "retarded" Edison saw things. He once told a reporter who used the word "fail" that in his eyes he had in fact successfully ruled out nearly SIX THOUSAND substances that were not acceptable.

& & &

"We learn wisdom from failure much more than from success. We often discover what will do, by finding out what will not do; and probably he who never made a mistake never made a discovery." - Samuel Smiles.



Perhaps you know the following story. Once upon a time an American salesman happened to get talking to a young man who was idly sitting by a river, fishing. "Shouldn't you be making more of your life?" he asked. "How?" replied the young man. "Studying; going to college, for a start." "Uhuh. That would cost me time and money, right?" "Yes, but then you could get a job, and earn money." "OK. I've got a job; I'm working hard; not much time for pleasure: where's the laughs in that?" "Ah! But you can save up money for your retirement." "And then?" "Then you earn your reward: you can go on holiday, relax, maybe go fishing." "But I'm there already, man!"

This story is one-sided. But if it makes you smile it may be because it also has an element of truth. I wonder if you are someone who has been working hard most of your adult life with the promise that it will make you happier? You may have worked hard at school; and in your first job. You have stuck to your principles. You have done the things you felt you should do. You have put off present happiness or pleasure in the interests of future financial security.

I am not suggesting that you throw everything away. But it can be useful at times to apply a little common sense and look at your life occasionally to see if you are doing too much for duty and the future and not enough for pleasure and today. Maybe you can find time to laugh a little more and say "It's OK to fail to work hard all the time" with a smile.

& & &

Happiness for the average person may be said to flow largely from common sense - adapting one-self to circumstances - and a sense of humor. - Beatrice Lillie


From Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome

I call that downright wisdom, not merely as regards the present case, but with reference to our trip up the river of life generally. How many people, on that voyage, load up the boat till it is in danger of swamping with a store of foolish things which they think essential to the pleasure and comfort of the trip, but which are really only useless lumber.

How they pile the poor little craft mast-high with fine clothes and big houses; with useless servants, and a host of swell friends that do not care twopence for them, and that they do not care three ha'pence for; with expensive entertainments that nobody enjoys, with formalities and fashions, with pretence and ostentation, and with - oh, heaviest, maddest lumber of all! - the dread of what will my neighbour think, with luxuries that only cloy, with pleasures that bore, with empty show that, like the criminal's iron crown of yore, makes to bleed and swoon the aching head that wears it!

It is lumber, man - all lumber! Throw it overboard. It makes the boat so heavy to pull, you nearly faint at the oars. It makes it so cumbersome and dangerous to manage, you never know a moment's rest for dreamy laziness - no time to watch the windy shadows skimming lightly o'er the shallows, or the glittering sunbeams flitting in and out among the ripples, or the great trees by the margin looking down at their own image, or the woods all green and golden, or the lilies white and yellow, or the sombre-waving rushes, or ....

& & &

When we recall the past, we usually find that it is the simplest things - not the great occasions - that in retrospect give off the greatest glow of happiness. - Bob Hope



Part of my job is helping people to stop smoking.

Time and time again I have met people who have successfully stopped for years. But then, for some reason, they have smoked just one. It might be at a time of stress. It might have been pressed upon them. It might have been when they were ill or drunk.

They normally do not like the taste or effect at all, after years of being a non-smoker.

BUT, they go on and take another and another until they are back up to their old level.

If you think about it, it seems rather strange they should take the second when the first was unpleasant. But a part of what seems to be happening is something like this. As they smoke that single cigarette they feel, "That's torn it. I've now failed as a non-smoker. So I must now be a smoker again."

And alcoholics can show the same pattern. When they are on the wagon they are "good". But a single drink makes them feel "bad" - "I am now a drinker, and might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb."

These people are all thinking that one failure makes THEM a failure. And that is an idea that inevitably makes things worse. When they learn (as others do) to feel "It's OK to fail to say 'no' this once...." it means retaining self-respect even though there is a slip. "That's OK. It is no big deal. I can see why I went wrong that time (because of stress/illness/drink etc.). I won't make that mistake again."

& & &

Do not look where you fell, but where you slipped. - African proverb


The Prodigal Son

Jesus told the parable of the prodigal son.

In a more up-to-date version it goes a bit like this. Once upon a time there was a man who wanted to avoid inheritance taxes and so gifted all his wealth to his two sons.

One of them promptly started to spend. He left home. He enjoyed the popularity that money could buy. He drove fast cars, and enjoyed the company of fast women. He dressed with the best. He lived and holidayed in the best places. He felt a great success.

But this could not last and in the end all the money ran out. He was bankrupt and down and out and ended up doing dogsbody work in a low South American bar just for his keep.

In the end he came to his senses. He was not only prepared to accept that he had failed: he was prepared to admit it.

So he phoned his father and told him. His father sent him the money to return home, and organised a great party to welcome him.

His father, I suggest, wanted him to know that the fact that he had failed did not make him a failure.

It is as if Jesus was saying, "It's OK to fail - just accept the fact of a failure: be honest about it. God loves you just the same."

& & &

And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no longer worthy to be called thy son. But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand and shoes on his feet. - Luke 15:20-22


Failure and Guilt

Some parents get angry with a child who has failed to perform a particular task well. And so the child associates failure with guilt. Some teachers get angry with pupils who do not do well. This can also link poor performance with guilt.

I suggest that the real value of guilt is to help us to behave better towards each other. I think it is right and healthy to feel guilt on harming another person. And the guilt should then lead us to make it up to the other. And then it should cease.

But it seems to me as I talk to many clients, that guilt is often high-jacked and used to make children and adults feel guilty about many things that are nothing to do with harming others. It may be about not doing everything a parent wants, or not doing well in the class, or not being selected for the team or, later in life, not being a "good" wife or employee, and so on.

When the goal is also vague - what exactly IS a "good mother"? - there is a constant nagging worry that something is still lacking, and a vague, depressing guilt persists at all times.

The antidote is to ask of any criticism if there is anything to be guilty about. If I have harmed someone then there is, and I should do something to make up for it. If not, but I have simply failed at some task then either it could not be helped or I can learn from the experience. Either way a feeling of guilt is of very little help, unlike "It's OK to fail..."

& & &

If anyone speak ill of thee, flee home to thine own conscience, and examine thine heart; if thou be guilty, it is a just correction; if not guilty, it is a fair instruction. Make use of both - so shalt thou distil honey out of gall, and out of an open enemy make a secret friend. - Francis Quarles


A drawback of success

When we are children our parents and relatives often praise us for our successes. "Look at Jimmy! He can ride his bike!" "Well done, Sally, you got 10 out of 10 in that spelling test!"

The snag is that when we grow up we then unconsciously expect that the world will continue to praise our successes, and so we strive and strive, expecting and hoping for more praise.

But in the world of adults there is a big gap between our expectation and reality. There is far less applause than we once received. Our every small achievement is no longer greeted with cries of admiration. Very few bosses see a need to lavish praise on what progress we make; and few colleagues can raise much enthusiasm if we get promoted above them. Even friends can feel ambiguous at a good fortune that they do not share.

All too often, in fact, our success is rewarded not with praise but with annoyance or jealousy.

"So you have got a job! I suppose that means that the children will have to be farmed out to a baby-minder?"

"I see you won a prize at the flower show. I did not enter this year as the judge is notorious for his lack of judgement."

"I suppose your lottery win will take you away from your old friends and make you selfish: it always does!"

"Well dear, I suppose that it is nice you being elected to be the Chair of that charity you work for, but I hope that it does not mean that you will be away from home any more than you are already."

& & &

The usual drawback of success is that it annoys one's friends so. - P.G. Woodhouse.

The worst part of having success is to try to find someone who is happy for you. - Bette Midler


George Washington

There is a popular story about George Washington, the childless eighteenth century American President, which all American children hear. It may be apocryphal but it goes a bit like this.

It is said that when he was a boy his youthful enthusiasm and thoughtlessness led him to cut down a cherry tree.

His father later saw the ruins of the tree and confronted George sternly. "Did you do this?" he demanded.

And George, although he realised from his father's tone of voice that he had done something wrong, freely admitted it, "Yes, father, I did it with my little hatchet."

Did his father then get angry with him and say, "You are a disgrace and a failure. After all I have done for you!"?

No, he praised him for his honesty, while not condoning the action. In effect his reaction was "It's OK to fail to use a hatchet wisely and to be honest about it. I love you still."

Incidentally I wonder what George Washington would make of his nation now that the chance of a lawsuit has made it mandatory NEVER to admit to ANYTHING?

And would the dialogue today run:

"Did you do this?"

"Yes father, I did it with my little...."

"Yes, yes! I know you did it. I've no problem with that. But how many times have I told you to DENY everything. Do you have no desire to be President one day?"

& & &

I welcome this kind of examination because people have got to know whether or not their President is a crook. Well, I'm not a crook. - Richard Nixon


Insomnia is when you fail to go to sleep

Some people from time to time do not get to sleep for quite a long time. But that is not insomnia because they do not regard it as a "failure".

Such people may report "I was late to sleep last night" or "I got up in the middle of the night and watched the movie" or "For some reason I got up before the sun and went out and watched it come up. I am a bit sleepy now." None of these people suffer from insomnia.

No, insomnia is, in so many cases, the inevitable result of someone feeling that it is vitally important to get what they think is their proper ration of sleep.

They typically go to bed thinking, "I must get to sleep, or I will be good for nothing in the morning." "I have to get my eight hours' sleep: everyone else does." If they do not achieve the standard of sleep they have set themselves they start to agonise. "What have I done wrong?" "I've failed to sleep again!" "I AM an insomniac."

And of course they usually get into a vicious circle. The more they fail to sleep the more desperate they become. Being desperate is NOT the best of night-caps: it simply banishes sleep. And so they "fail" yet again.

So the elimination of insomnia will nearly always involve a change of thinking to the more normal "It's OK to lose sleep. My body will catch up on it in its own good time."

Actually many insomniacs also lie awake worrying about a lot of other things that they are frightened of failing at. So the simple "It's OK to fail.." philosophy can help them in that way also.

& & &

He sleeps well who knows not that he sleeps ill. - Publius Syrus


Many other people have thought similar things....(2)

The million covet wealth, but how few dream of its perils! Few are aware of the extent to which it ministers to the baser passions of our nature; of the selfishness it engenders; the arrogance which it feeds; the self-security which it inspires; the damage which it does to all the nobler feelings and holier aspirations of the heart! - John Neale

There is not in the world so toilsome a trade as the pursuit of fame: life concludes before you have so much as sketched your work. - Bruyère

Executives may be at the top of the ladder vocationally but they are at the foot when it comes to making love. - Lester Dearborn

A man may be festooned with the whole haberdashery of success, and go to his grave a castaway. - Rudyard Kipling

Fling away ambition. By that sin angels fell. How then can man, the image of his maker, hope to win by it? - Shakespeare

The pain of a disappointed wish necessarily produces less effect upon the mind if a man has not certainly promised himself success. - Seneca

What is fame? - The advantage of being known by people of whom you yourself know nothing, and for whom you care as little. - King Stanislaus

A celebrity is a person who works hard all his life to become well known, then wears dark glasses to avoid being recognised. - Fred Allen


From The Bhagavad Gita

Set thy heart upon thy work, but never on its reward. Work not for a reward; but never cease to do thy work.

Do thy work in the peace of Yoga and, free from selfish desires, be not moved in success or in failure. Yoga is evenness of mind - a peace that is ever the same.

Work done for a reward is much lower than work done in the yoga of wisdom. Seek salvation in the wisdom of reason. How poor those who work for a reward!

Those words may seem antiquated in the modern world in which the wheels of commerce seem to be driven by selfish desires and an overwhelming emphasis on success or failure. (You might try marking in your daily paper all those articles which have to do in one way or another with people's successes, failures and selfish desires, and see what is left!)

But what do these words mean in our present life? They are saying that people who fix their minds only on the size of paypacket will be less happy than those who, having taken a job, take satisfaction in doing it as well as possible.

They are saying that parents who feel that their children or society should reward them for parenting will be less happy than those who do it for love.

They are saying that it is foolish to do things in the hope that people will admire or praise you.

They are saying, "Whatever you do, give it your best shot. But it's OK to fail at things, and if it succeeds, fine. But the main thing is to give it your best shot." How poor those who work for a reward.

& & &

And no one shall work for money, and no one shall work for fame... - Rudyard Kipling


Don't let other people label you a failure

Get in first and admit to having had a failure!

To acknowledge a failure is freedom. To have people trying to force you to be a failure is quite another thing.

Actually most people will like you more if you admit your mistakes and acknowledge your failures. It will make them feel more comfortable with their own problems. "Mr. Perfect" tends to leave other people with a feeling of inadequacy or irritation. Why pretend to be something that nobody much likes in any case?

An admission of failure shows honesty and courage and modesty and a readiness to learn

It is a strain pretending to be better than we are. If I stop pretending and admit my failures then it is easier on me and on everyone else too. (I have failed to help many clients, failed to get some books and papers published, failed to keep all my hair... Are you disappointed? You want perfect, maybe? But I am generally happy in myself all the same.)

A voluntary bankruptcy is a positive step to freedom. Being forced into bankruptcy is demoralising. Those who choose rather than being forced are able to preserve their self-respect and the respect of others. And it is generally better for everyone concerned.

Others may try to call you a failure. You will not be calling yourself a failure. Admitting your mistakes and acknowledging your failures is the best way to avoid being labelled a failure.

& & &

I do not like these cold, precise, perfect people, who, in order not to speak wrong, never speak at all, and in order not to do wrong, never do anything. - H.W. Beecher


The Oak and the Willow

Perhaps you know the fable about the Oak and the Willow?

They stood quite close together. The Oak stood rigid as a Major and held his head high and stretched his mighty branches proudly to the sky.

The Willow hung her leafy boughs like tresses towards the river and they moved with the slightest breeze.

The Oak poured scorn on the Willow. "You should be like me!" he snapped. You will never get anywhere without a bit more backbone. You are just not trying!"

The Willow did try, but all she achieved was disappointment and a feeling of failure for not living up to the example and exhortations of the Oak.

Then one day a great storm blew up and the winds snarled about the trees.

The Oak stood rigid and strong before the blasts. He would not bend. His pride in his own firmness and the habit of years made it impossible. He would not countenance the slightest failure. He was blown down.

The gentle Willow had no such pride. She bent to the ground before the mighty winds. But when the storm was over she needed only to grow new leaves to replace some that had been lost, and she was fine again.

& & &

I have been more and more convinced, the more I think of it, that, in general, pride is at the bottom of all great mistakes. All the other passions do occasional good; but whenever pride puts in a word, everything goes wrong; and what might really be desirable to do, quietly and innocently, it is mortally dangerous to do proudly. - Ruskin


Who'd watch a film without failures?

I wonder what your favourite kind of film, book or play is?

Whatever the genre try to imagine what it would be like if the main characters never had the slightest setback, or made the slightest mistake.

Suppose that it was a love film in which he loved her the moment he saw her, and she loved him in return and from then on everything went well. There were no misunderstandings, no rivals, no obstacles, no causes of unhappiness. There is scene after scene of unmitigated happiness: happy meals, happy sunbathing, happy shopping, happy kissing. Would you enjoy it?

Suppose it was a war film or a Western in which the Good Guys have it all their own way right from the start. They are in no danger because the Bad Guys, perceiving the weakness of their moral position, quietly hand over their weapons and they all join together and sing in the church choir for the next ninety minutes. Would you enjoy it?

I quite agree that in much but not all of this fiction we expect and desire a satisfactory resolution in the end. But notice that it is the failures along the way that make the films worth seeing: the obstacles to Romeo and Juliet's love, James Bond's failure to spot the ambush that gets him into the clutches of the villain and so on.

It can at times be worth reflecting that if we had no setbacks or failures in our lives they would lose much that brings out the best in us. It's OK to fail - tackling a failure or its consequences provides part of the true drama of life.

& & &

All the world's a stage and all the men and women merely players... - Shakespeare


Success may be found at the foot of the rainbow

When you have accepted a failure then the only way is up. If you glorify Success then you will never get there. Success is always out of reach for people driven by it.

When you have made your first million then you start to mix with people who have ten millions and you feel poor. So you strive for the next few millions; finally make your ten million and look around again. Lo and behold there are people with five times as much, and bigger yachts. The more you have, the more you want. The demon of Success is insatiable.

You reach Success like you reach the end of a rainbow. If you simply enjoy the chase then it is fun and worthwhile. But if you are only running because you want to possess the rainbow then there is only effort and no reward.

Or we can think of wild animals. The more free they are the greater their beauty and magic. If they are caught and put into cages then much of the magic goes. If they are killed as trophies and their heads hung on walls then all the vitality that made them attractive goes.

When you have accepted these facts then you can be more content in yourself. You can enjoy watching the rainbows of life without desperately striving to capture them. You can enjoy watching animals in the wild and whales in the sea from time to time and gain inspiration from their freedom in their own element.

It's OK to fail to catch a whale. It's OK to fail to catch a rainbow.

& & &

The real demon is success - the anxieties engendered by this quest are relentless, degrading, corroding. What is worse, there is no end to this escalation of desire. - Marya Mannes.


The right environment

Any gardener will tell you that any given plant will thrive in some soil and not in others.

Polar bears thrive in cold arctic seas, but not elsewhere. Anteaters will not thrive where there are no ants.

A great part of the reason why a given person thrives or does not thrive is just a matter of being in the right environment: The right place at the right time.

Henry Ford was a successful man. But suppose he had been born thirty years earlier or later, or at the same time, but in Cuba? In that case someone else would have taken his place in history and we might now be driving Hoovers!

Many self-help books tell you that you can change yourself from the inside, and that is all that you need to do.

In fact if things are not going well with someone the problem may lie almost exclusively with them being a round peg in a square hole: they simply do not fit in where life has placed them. The chances are that the easiest and best way of helping them to thrive again is to get them to change to a more favourable environment!

Like the Ugly Duckling a person may feel rejected in one group of people and yet in another be one of the more popular. But notice that a move is only possible if the "failure" in the first group is accepted. It's OK to fail to be happy in one group and to find another where you are happier.

& & &

Some of our best executives have been abject failures who were fired out of Company A for being no damn good before they went to Company B where they have been outstanding - Frederick J. Gaudet


Failure in sex

There have always been men who come to therapists like myself with erection problems which have no identifiable medical cause. Since Viagra does not help every man, and others are suspicious of it, this continues to the present day.

The vast majority have a history which is essentially the same, simple, story. Their sex life has been totally satisfactory until a single failure. The reasons for that failure are varied and largely irrelevant. They may have been too drunk, or too ill, or it was too soon after the previous time, or the woman did not attract them or ..."

The factor that they all have in common is the idea "It is not OK to fail." They think, "I am a failure. I am impotent." And a man with those feelings is unlikely to achieve much in bed. So the feelings of failure get worse and worse. And so does the performance, in a vicious circle.

Treatment, though in detail geared to each man's personality, runs on similar lines in each case.

They need to accept that "It's OK to fail to have an erection occasionally". It is common. It does NOT make them a failure. It is usually useful for them to see why things went wrong the first time - to learn from it. I then explain how the problem was kept going by the vicious circle effect. Finally we get their minds back where they belong - on their partner, not on themselves. Then all goes well again.

& & &

"It is necessary so to influence the patient [suffering from impotence] that he is not constantly preoccupied with himself; that he takes his malady and any possible failure with indifference." - A. von Schrenck-Notzing


Pyramid selling

Think of pyramid selling. Most people today are aware of the dangers. It is an extremely successful scheme - for the man at the top! Those one level down can also make a bit. Nearly everyone below that level loses money so that the ones at the top can gain.

Notice also that pyramid selling "works" by trying to sell the idea of monetary success: you are promised a LOT. It illustrates both the way in which "Success" is used to con people and the way in which the many suffer loss so that a few might gain.

Some courses, movements or cults work on this same principle. Only there the promised Success may be happiness or enlightenment in this world or the world to come. Telltale signs of pyramid courses are of great emphasis being put into recruiting new members and overpriced "courses" that lead from one level to another "higher" one. (Do I run courses? - No.)

What the man at the top of the pyramid generally enjoys is wealth, power and prestige and beneath him in the pyramid he generally wants not friends or colleagues but people who are, in all but name, slaves. They are only there to support him and will be discarded if they fail to fill their role.

So keep well away from all the pyramids that promise that wonderful Success! Remember that "If it sounds too good to be true - then it isn't true," or the milder "There's no such thing as a free lunch," or, when someone says "Don't Fail to Seize this Offer of a Lifetime," think "No, it's always OK to fail to do that!" That way you avoid acting the slave helping to build someone else's pyramid.

& & &

Mamon is the largest slave-holder in the world. - Frederick Saunders



When I was at Oxford University I read that the suicide rate among the students - among the brightest in the country - was one of the highest in the land. That was and is very sad.

These young men and women were among the brightest and the best. But the expectations that they had of themselves and the expectations that others had of them were often too high. The thought of dropping below those standards was too humiliating - more than their pride could bear. It was capital F Failure. And they could not accept Failure.

They fell into a huge chasm of unhappiness: the chasm between the hopes that people had encouraged in them and the reality of what they were capable of. It is one thing to be the best in your form at school. It is quite another to be the best in the country.

My guess is that they misdirected their intelligence, paralysing themselves with thoughts of their perceived inadequacies and failures rather than simply studying their course material to the best of their ability.

Let us mourn those bright young spirits who had not learned that "It's OK to fail to be academically outstanding". Let us mourn those young lives that could have found happiness and contributed much to others even if they had left Oxford with only a poor degree.

And let us enroll their names among those who have suffered the ultimate sacrifice on the altar of the false god Success.

& & &

Intelligence is a luxury, sometimes useless, sometimes fatal. It is a torch or a firebrand according to the use one makes of it. - Cabellero


The magic question!

At a certain age children learn to use questions. The question that seems most useful to them is the WHY question. "Mummy, WHY can I not watch the TV?" "Daddy, WHY is the dog barking?" It has a sort of magic for a while, it is a kind of Open, Sesame! to a treasure house of information.

But there is another question which is even more magical, and yet which is rarely asked by children or even adults.

That question is, "HOW?" This SHOULD, I think, be a common response to any criticism.

Children are often told by a parent, "For heaven sake tidy your room!" If we put on one side those children who prefer their rooms untidy there are still many who would gain a lot from asking, "But HOW do I tidy a room, Mummy?"

"One way is to put some music on. When you are listening to the first song you put books back on these shelves here, like this. When the second song is playing you hang up clothes on these hangers here, like this. The third song has you putting clothes flat into these drawers; the fourth sees school books going onto this shelf; the fifth sees all the odds and ends going into this big box and the last sees any rubbish that is left going into this bin. Did you see how I did it?"

And I have had countless clients suffering from depression or jealousy or a smoking habit who have been told over and over again to "just stop" or "snap out of it". It amazes me that intelligent people can give such naive advice: as if the sufferer is too stupid or lazy to try such an obvious solution!

Perhaps you, also, have suffered from this. I find it helpful not to fear seeming a stupid failure and just ask, "HOW am I supposed to do better?"

It's OK to fail... and ask HOW to avoid the mistake and HOW to improve things from here.



I have seen many clients who are devastated by the infidelity of a partner and the consequent relationship breakdown.

And time and time again I find that the real harm was not done by the infidelity, which was of course bad enough, but by the lies told when it came to light.

The man or woman who, when discovered, says, "Yes, I have been having an affair," and proceeds to be sorry has a bad time for some weeks, but things are usually soon better.

On the other hand the person who denies having an affair over and over until the truth finally comes out destroys trust. And it can take years to recover from that.

To find that your partner is unfaithful is bad, but to find that he or she is also a coward, too scared to tell the truth, and will lie to you to save face is far worse because all trust has gone out of the relationship.

In this case the prescription "It's OK to fail to be faithful and admit it and be sorry" involves swallowing rather a bitter pill. It means admitting to something that will arouse anger. But it will make things a lot better in the long run.

But it is important for the injured party also to accept that "It is OK to fail..." In this case it is clearer to see what happens if they stick to "It is not OK to fail and I will never forgive it." This will inevitably lead to the end of the marriage.

Instead the marriage can in fact be made stronger if they say, "It is OK to fail if you are sorry and if we work together to learn from what went wrong."

& & &

The gain of lying is nothing else but not to be trusted of any, nor to be believed when we say the truth. - Sir Walter Raleigh


Woozles and Wizzles

Another story I find myself repeating is the one about the time when Pooh Bear and Piglet went hunting in the wood and nearly caught (or were caught by) a Woozle. You probably know it well, it goes like this.

One day Piglet found Winnie-the-Pooh following a single line of tracks that he had found in the snow. "Oh, Pooh! Do you think it's a - a - a Woozle?"

"It may be," said Pooh. "Sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn't. You never can tell with paw-marks.

So they followed the marks. A little while later they found another set of paw-marks. And after some further companionable tracking they found a third set - different from the other two - possibly a Wizzle

A slight anxiety now set in, but things got really serious when yet another animal's tracks joined the ones in front. At that point the thought of three Woozles and a Wizzle was too much for Piglet and he rushed off home.

We do not know what Pooh would have done if Christopher Robin had not then appeared and cleared things up by pointing out that his two friends had been following their own tracks in the snow. The dangerous and mysterious Woozles and Wizzles were only themselves.

It is not only Pooh and Piglet that do this. Many of us clever human beings go around in (vicious) circles scaring ourselves by the symptoms of anxieties that are only caused by our fear of the symptoms of anxiety.

"I see now," said Winnie-the-Pooh. "I have been Foolish and Deluded," said he, "and I am a Bear of No Brain at All." "You're the Best Bear in All the World," said Christopher Robin soothingly. (It's OK to be foolish and admit it, I love you just the same.)


There are few mountain tops

When I was young, I, like many another who was good at science, aspired to be another Einstein. But of course there are only so many great theories to be found, and an enormous number of promising young scientists.

The fact is that there are only so many mountains in the world. There are only so many ways of being a success. Therefore a desire to be the Best is almost certain to lead to disappointment! That is the paradox that no-one mentions.

Some people just love mountains; they love walking on them and exploring them; they love the solitude and the grandeur; they love them in the sun and the love them in the snow. The lower slopes have the same enchantment as the great peaks.

Other people just want to be "successful" climbers. They feel a need to do something no-one else has done. But there are only so many new climbs and there is a real limit to how many people can be first. There is therefore very little room for success, just as there is very little room at the summit of a mountain. I wonder which of those two approaches gives most happiness? What do you think?

But all the cameras are pointing at the mountain tops: at the stars and celebrities and world-class performers. All the books tell of Einstein's genius. So, sadly, too many people neglect the fertile lower slopes of life where there is a great deal more happiness and far less stress.

& & &

Possessions, outward success, publicity, luxury - to me these have always been contemptible. I believe that a simple and unassuming manner of life is best for everyone, best both for the body and the mind. - Albert Einstein.


Laws or Love?

A loving parent may give a child rules to help it to learn act appropriately to keep it safe. A lot of good advice can be condensed into simple rules. "Brush your teeth. Say please and thank you. Look both ways before crossing the road..."

The rules are there to help the child; they are given with love. But there are two sad things that can go wrong.

The first is when a child gets the impression that if it fails to keep the rule it will lose its parent's love.

These children learn the meta-rule - the rule that governs rules - "It's not OK to fail to keep the rules. I will stop loving you if you do."

It is to prevent this that you will see many a mother of young children telling them off strongly when they have failed to keep a rule, but within a very short time giving them a cuddle or hug so that the message "I love you still" gets through.

The second thing that can go wrong with rules is that they can be later blindly applied in times and places or to degrees where they can do harm.

"Waste not, want not," is a good precept, especially when times are hard. But I find that many of those who come to me for help in losing weight are suffering from having this rule drummed into them too strongly when they were young. They will never throw out anything that can be eaten, and when food is plentiful this means inevitably that they eat far too much.

It's OK to fail to eat food or keep rules if they are past their sell-by dates.

& & &

Rules are for the obedience of fools and the guidance of wise men. - Douglas Bader


Good advice

When I was just a little girl
My mother said to me,
"Waste is a sin, save all you can,
And you will wealthy be."
And so I salvaged every crumb,
I ate up every scrap.
And nothing have I thrown away
That fell into my lap.
But now my house is far too full
I cannot move within,
And twenty stone of body
Just will not seem to slim.

When I was just a little boy
My father I heard speak:
"Be strong, my son, and never show
Your feelings. That is weak."
And so I keep a poker face,
I keep it day and night.
And never frown nor smile nor cry.
I know that I am right.
When my wife left me I was strong -
And when I lost my friends.
Though unemployed I will stay strong
And proud, till my life ends.

When I was just a little girl,
My mother loved me so.
"All men are dirty", so she said,
And watched me cleanly grow.
And I have kept away from dirt
Each fresh month of my life.
I never have been sullied and
No man made me his wife.
But I am sad now as I reach
The closing of my days,
That I've no daughter of my own
To teach her cleanly ways.

I'm proud to be a Pharisee
I'm proud I keep the Laws
My fathers handed down to me
As perfect, without flaws.
I pay my tithes of mint and herb
My hands are clean as clean.
I don't consort with sinners and
No evil have I seen.
And when someone accuses me
And says my gain is loss,
He must be mad or bad you know
Fit fodder for a cross.

My father was a farmer poor
And Bible tales he told
Of sorting out the wheat and tares
Of shepherds and the fold.
I know I 'm not a clever man
And rules I may not keep.
I only know that I am loved
And love each of my sheep.
So at my end my every grain
Shall enter Heaven's store.
And every tare among my grain
Be lost for ever more.


The roughage of life

There was a time when food was thought to be best if refined and pure: refined sugar, flour that was bleached white.

It is only in more recent years that it has become clear that our bodies do NOT respond well to these things. We need roughage.

Failures are like the roughage of life. If you aspire to some sort of refinement of spirit and purity of achievement with none of the roughage of failures then you will find that it, also, will lead to problems.

To me the kind of idea presented by the "You, too, can be a 100% Success!" books is of a life without the slightest roughage. It is too purified to be wholesome even if true.

Mistakes and failures are an essential ingredient in our daily diets. I am not, of course, saying that they are as sweet as the occasional success or triumph. But I am saying that if we do not accept a certain proportion in our daily diet we are going to find problems.

Perhaps you feel that, as a good parent, you should arrange your children's lives to be of unbroken success in all they do? The trouble is that this can be bad for them. Some early experience of digesting failures is much more likely to lead to a happy and healthy life when they grow up.

Parents of a generation or so ago believed that giving their children refined sugar and bleached-white bread was for the best. They were wrong.

"It's OK to have bran in your daily bread! It's OK to fail at something today!"

& & &

There is the greatest practical benefit in making a few failures early in life. - T.H. Huxley


Success is an addictive drug

Once upon a time there were two young men. The first young man took some heroin. It gave him an amazing high. The second young man had the heady experience of an early success in life.

The first young man then started to look for other heroin highs. It started to get expensive. The second started to look for more successes. They took more and more effort and time.

Both young men found that they were becoming obsessive, and more and more of their time and thoughts and activities revolved around their one obsession.

The drug addict started to sacrifice all ordinary pleasures, all normal life, at first in order to seek again and again that elusive "high", but after a while just to stave off the pangs that being without would bring.

The success addict also found himself sacrificing ordinary pleasures in the quest, at first, for the next thrill of a "success", but then to dull the pangs of unhappiness that his lifestyle brought.

The symptoms of both problems are very similar. A loss of pleasure in the everyday things of life, mood swings, loss of interest in other people, becoming a pain in the neck to those close to them and a preoccupation with one thing only.

It is these telltale symptoms that are useful in distinguishing those people who are achieving things in life because of a normal and healthy pleasure in what they are doing from those people who are driven by an obsessive addiction to the buzz of "success".

& & &

Along with success come drugs, divorce, fornication, bullying, travel, meditation, medication, depression, neurosis and suicide. - Joseph Heller


Unloving rules

Here is an extract from the list one client wrote for me of what she learned as a child! It was not OK to fail!

Do as you're told. Don't answer back. Don't argue. Don't make a fuss. Don't shout – only Mum is allowed to shout. But be assertive when Mum tells you to.
Don't ask for anything Mum might not want you to have, or enjoy or like something Mum doesn't like, or say or do anything that Mum disapproves of, or could feel upset or exasperated at.
Don't expect Mum to respect any boundaries, e.g. privacy in bathroom. Never exclude Mum from anything and tell her everything. But don't talk about your worries. Smile.
Be "grown up" (even if you are only 4!).
Don't show fear or embarrassment or tears "or I'll give you something to cry for". Don't be angry only Mum is allowed to be angry. Accept humiliation (from Mum) quietly. Smile.
Loyalty to the family comes first. Never question the belief that we are right and everyone else is wrong. Be contemptuous of people who are different from "us" and don't trust them. Never forgive and forget

I find it hard to see much love in these rules. They have been designed almost entirely for the benefit of the mother.

And in the adult world, too, there are rules which are only to the advantage of those who make them. It is positively good for you to fail to keep some rules!


Rules have their right place

It is important to remember that ALL rules and laws only apply in certain circumstances.

The rules of the road are there for the safety of all road users. And yet there are circumstances when any specific rule is wrong. As a trivial example we have a rule in the UK which is "Drive on the left of the road." This rule must be broken if we drive in most of the rest of Europe. But it may be broken on one way streets where we may drive on either side of the road. And it is broken when we overtake.

When we come to the rules and standards of everyday life the same thing is true. We often have to learn the times and places where they apply and the times when it may be right to fail to meet them.

The client on the previous page was taught never to be angry. She felt guilty if she DID feel angry. And yet most people will agree that there are times when it is right to be angry, not least at injustice.

It is right be generous and give to others, but right to fail to give if giving would make you bankrupt.

It is generally right to work hard, but NOT if it is more than your body can stand. It is usually better to fail to meet your standards than to damage your health seriously.

The idea that "It's OK to fail to stick to a rule when it will do more harm than good." can save us from many a disaster and misery, whether the rule is ours or anothers.

& & &

When I hear any man talk of an unalterable law, the only effect it produces on me is to convince me that he is an unalterable fool. - Sydney Smith


Many other people have thought similar things.... (3)

Nothing fails like success because we don't learn from it. We learn only from failure. - Kenneth Boulding

A man should never be ashamed to own that he has been in the wrong, which is but saying, in other words, that he is wiser today than he was yesterday. - Pope

To make no mistakes is not in the power of man; but from their errors and mistakes the wise and good learn wisdom for the future. - Plutarch

There is much to be said for Failure. It is more interesting than success. - Max Beerbohm

Failure does not count. If you accept this, you'll be successful. What causes most people to fail is that after one failure, they'll stop trying. - Frank Burford

Accept failure as a normal part of living. View it as part of the process of exploring your world; make a note of its lessons and move on. - Tom Greening

Remember your past mistakes just long enough to profit by them. - Dan Mckinnon

No man every became great or good except through many and great mistakes. - William Gladstone

It is not every calamity that is a curse, and early adversity is often a blessing. - Surmounting difficulties not only teaches, but heartens us in our future struggles. - James Sharp


"It is wrong to glorify failure"

Some people will tell you that I am glorifying failure. And that I am wrong to do so. How will anyone ever get any better?

The truth of the matter is that I am only saying that success has been glorified too much and the fact that frequent failures are the norm gets ignored.

Most people will get steadily better in small but satisfying ways much more easily if they accept imperfections and without being lured onwards by a glorification of Success. For every person spurred on by the idea of Success there are a hundred held back by a fear of failure to meet that idea of Success.

Children just messing about on a computer learn faster than adults because the adults are inhibited by a fear of looking stupid or of failing to learn. Adults find it hard to learn to play a musical instrument because they are always comparing themselves with other successful adults. Young children just play, without considering success or failure as an adult does. Sadly, however, adults sometimes interfere with the child's simple delight in learning a new skill by infecting the playing with their own fraught feelings about success and failure, and the rot sets in.

Those who say that I am glorifying failure may do so, I suppose, because they are in the habit of glorifying Success, and I am saying that it causes an enormous amount of unhappiness to glorify Success. By all means accept successes when they come; by all means accept failures when they come. Glorify neither. Despise neither.

& & &

No one that ever lived has ever had enough power, prestige or knowledge to overcome the basic condition of all life - you win some and you lose some. - Ken Keyes


Looking Glass Land

You may remember that when Alice was in Looking Glass Land she had a problem reaching any destination. She wanted to get away from the house and to reach a distant hill. She thought the way to do it was to walk towards the hill. But curiously this only led to her finding herself back at the house. She discovered that in fact the way to get to the hill was to walk away from it.

Now real life is much more like Looking Glass Land than you might imagine. On other pages you will find many problems in this world which are very like Alice's.

Take sleep. The more determined you are to go to sleep the more you will stay awake. Success in sleep is achieved by NOT having a strong desire for success! Hypnosis is rather similar: if a client is desperate to be hypnotised it makes it very difficult indeed. Relaxation is very similar.

. Take any manual skill: playing an instrument or a sport or painting. Do you not recall times when the harder you tried the more things went wrong?

Psychologists use the phrase "performance anxiety" to describe the problem when the desire to perform well at something leads to an anxiety which can undermine the attempt.

It is not just in Looking Glass Land that the way to succeed is to walk away from Success! And that is much the same as being prepared to accept that "It's OK to fail..."

& & &

So, resolutely turning her back upon the house, she [Alice] set out once more down the path, determined to keep straight on till she got to the hill. For a few minutes all went on well .... and the next moment she found herself actually walking in at the front door. - Lewis Carroll


Count your blessings

The old fashioned habit of counting your blessings is hated by advertisers and salesmen of all kinds. For it might - dangerously - lead you actually to be contented with what you already have!

It is human nature to pay far more attention to things when they go wrong than when they go right. But past generations knew that sometimes to pay more attention to the things that go right can be a great source of contentment and happiness.

Things like eyesight, hearing, hands, skills, memories, friends, home, family, reading and music all bring happiness to millions.

You might like to think how much these things are worth to you. If you were to lose your sight how much would you pay to have it back? There are many people who would love to exchange their blindness for your sight.

If the person you loved best were to die, how much would you pay to have them back?

Dwell each night on the things that you have done that day simply because you wanted to, and how much compensation you would feel you deserved if someone made it impossible for you to do those things again.

If you were to spend some time valuing what you HAVE in this way then there is a good chance that in monetary terms the total value would be in the millions.

The point of this exercise is to get the gap between what we have and what we want into perspective.

& & &

If we fasten our attention on what we have, rather than on what we lack, a very little wealth is sufficient. - F. Johnson


Not Best but Good Enough

Good Enough is fine for most of us. A car that is good enough, clothes that are good enough, a home that is good enough.

Buying the best involves a drastic increase in price. To buy the "best" clothes can cost a thousand times more, as can the "best" car. The cost may not simply be in money, but in time, effort and stress.

The woollen mills of the Bradford area in West Yorkshire, near where I now live, were each marked by a large chimney. Small chimneys were inefficient; larger were better. But there were some mill owners that were not content to have chimneys that were large enough, they wanted THE BEST. Soon competition arose between two who kept on building higher and higher. This was good work for the masons. But it bankrupted the mill owners.

That may sound foolish. But how many couples have brought unhappiness if not bankruptcy on themselves and their children simply by wanting the best house in the area, or the best furniture or the best car or the best clothes or the best holiday?

The simple question to ask is, "Does wanting or even having the Best bring as much happiness as it costs?" All too often the answer is a resounding "No!"

It's OK to fail to have the Best and be happy with what you have and who you are.

& & &

It is not the level of prosperity that makes for happiness but the kinship of heart to heart and the way we look at the world. Both attitudes are within our power . . a man is happy so long as he chooses to be happy, and no one can stop him. - Alexander Solzhenitsyn


Admitting a failure is honesty

How many children, having been criticised for some failing once, and then detected in it again, simply learn the ability to lie convincingly?

It seems to me that in practice this is one of the most common lessons of childhood.

Now there are some who might approve of this as a good training for a career in Diplomacy or Politics or selling secondhand cars.

But how many of us admire this trait in those we have dealings with? Do you like it in salesmen? Do you want your wife or husband stoutly to deny any faults? Do you want your children to lie to you? Do you expect a good government to cover up anything disreputable?

Don't we all prefer it if someone admits a mistake rather than continuing to pretend that it was never done, or that if it was, it was someone else's fault?

Admitting a failure is about honesty. Admitting a failure is about courage.

It is much better for us to say "OK, I've failed there" and be honest about it, than not to say it and disown a fault or failing. An honest admission tends to be the end of the matter, bar some tidying up, and we can move on.

But if we don't admit a fault then it creates fault lines in our personality between what we have done and what we say and between what we say and what we know. This internal disharmony can in turn only lead to stress and unhappiness.

& & &

Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony. - Mahatma Gandhi


The worship of Success leads to deceit

When Success is the goal the end is often taken to justify the means. Those who worship Success are led into strange ways. At times the ways are quite innocuous though essentially deceitful.

Some may sew designer labels into non-designer clothes. Some may talk of people as bosom friends who would not recognise them if they saw them. Some borrow to buy things to deceive others into thinking that they are as successful as they would like to be. But then the debt escalates and burdens them.

Some deceive themselves by buying clothes that would fit if they had successfully dieted, struggling agonisingly to get into them and being thoroughly miserable when they fail. Some can find themselves quite unable to talk honestly to anyone about their problems, as this would place them in danger of losing face.

And there are others who deceive in far greater ways and defraud and cheat and lie to gain money and power and prestige in the land. I do not have to name names for you to think of politicians and businessmen for whom success seems to justify any means and failure is the only sin.

On the other hand those who can say "It's OK to fail..." are free to talk about real friends, live within their income, wear clothes that they like and are comfortable in, get problems off their chests, and live a decent, honest life. They are free to be happy.

& & &

Success is the sole earthly judge of right and wrong. - Adolf Hitler

Success - "the bitch-goddess, Success" in William James's phrase - demands strange sacrifice from those who worship her. - Aldous Huxley


What other people think

For many people it is not so much their failing as the thought of what other people will think about their failing that is important. They think that other people will think less of them in some way.

When I meet clients who think in this way I very often find that they remember from childhood a very critical adult in their lives. That childhood experience then remains with them.

Suppose that, when you were little, every mistake was followed by criticism and hence a feeling that you were bad in some way. Is it surprising then that you continue to feel that others will think badly of you if you make a mistake when you are older? It is often very hard to eliminate such thinking.

The most natural antidote is to spend time with people who accept you as you are; people who do not deal in criticism; people who are easy with themselves and so are easy with others. The attitude will rub off.

But it can also help to realise that NO-ONE is universally admired or approved of. No Prime Minister, no President, no Princess. No-one. There are always critics. You just do not have to have much to do with them, but instead surround yourself with friends you can trust and who get on with you.

Of course I hope that this book could help also. If it generates a spirit of "It's OK to fail..." in the country rather than a spirit of "You are a Failure!" then many will feel less criticised, be more able to feel human and do better and be happier.

& & &

The eyes of other people are the eyes that ruin us. If all but myself were blind, I should want neither fine clothes, fine houses, nor fine furniture. - Benjamin Franklin


The Lost Sheep

And Jesus told the story of the lost sheep.

There are not so many shepherds around these days, so the story does not mean quite as much to us in its original form. But it goes a bit like this.

One upon a time there was a Wildlife Conservation area overseen by a Warder. There were fences around it to protect the wildlife from the dangers outside - such as highways, traffic and opportunistic hunters.

But one young deer, perhaps because it found the fences restrictive, managed to get out and started to roam the countryside outside. Scared by headlights and disorientated by strange buildings the deer got lost and scared.

But the Warden soon noticed that it had gone and started to track it. It took her a long time, but in the end she found it, and lovingly returned it to the safety of the Wildlife Reserve and its friends and family.

Jesus meant the animal to stand for one of us, and the Warden (Shepherd) to stand for God. If we are "bad" and do the foolish thing then we may suffer the things that the fence (rule) was there to protect us from. But "It's OK to fail... God loves you just the same."

& & &

How think ye? if a man have a hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray? And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine that went not astray. Even so it is not in the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish. - Matthew 18:12-14


"Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown."

Roman Emperors believed themselves to be Gods and demanded to be treated as Gods. Were they happy? What do you think? They had to have someone to taste every plate of food put before them in case it was poisoned. Would it make you happy? They were forever killing off people that they feared would be a threat to them. Does that sound like a happy life?

Perhaps the Roman poet Ovid had the Emperors in mind when he wrote Bene qui latui, bene vixit which has been translated as "He who has lived in obscurity has lived well."

Today things are not so very different. Those who have position and prestige have to contend with a thousand people asking them for help, or donations, and a few people who are dangerously jealous or even murderous. Think of John Lennon. Think of President Kennedy.

When you look at the glittering successes do not forget the price that is paid to stay at the top where bodyguards and paranoia and insomnia are occupational hazards!

There is a lot to be said for a life in which no-one is out to get you and you can sleep easily.

& & &

How many of my poorest subjects
Are at this hour asleep! O sleep, gentle sleep,
Nature's soft nurse, how I have frighted thee,
That thou no more wilt weigh my eyelids down,
And steep my senses in forgetfulness?
Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.
- Shakespeare: Henry IV part 2.


Failure and regret

Regret comes when you see that things did not go as you wish they had gone. "I regret that I upset you by my behaviour." "I regret that I did not have the chance to ride a horse."

It gives rise to feelings of sadness.

If the gap between how things went and how we wanted them to go is very large then it gives rise to a much deeper sadness or grief. The death of a child gives rise to grief. We would not be human if we never felt regret or grief.

My experience suggests that if we try to suppress grief; if we try to avoid the feeling by an effort of will, then it can fester.

If, on the other hand, we allow the feeling to surface and experience it fully then, like most feelings, it passes. Very often this means simply telling others of our grief and letting our tears fall freely.

We can only do this if we accept to the full the fact that things did not go as we wished. We have to accept the failure of our dreams, our hopes, our desires - when it is clear that they have failed, of course.

This may cause short-term sorrow, but in it is the seed of new life and hope.

& & &

Give sorrow words: the grief, that does not speak, whispers the o'erfraught heart, and bids it break. - Shakespeare

The path of sorrow, and that path alone, leads to the land where sorrow is unknown; no traveller ever reached that blessed abode who found not thorns and briers on his way. - William Cowper

The soul would have no rainbow had the eyes no tears. - John Vance Cheney


Making Paths: A story

You may have heard the following story. Once upon a time a man and a boy were taking a walk in the country on a sunny winter's day. It had been snowing and the countryside shone sparkling and white under a blue sky.

On attaining a high vantage point the man stopped and waited for the boy to catch up. He pointed back to their footprints in the snow, and, aiming to draw a moral from what they saw, said:

"Look, son, at the paths we have followed. You will see that my footprints make a straight line, while yours go all over the place. And so I got here much sooner than you. Do you see?"

The boy looked back and indeed saw that there was one straight line of large prints while the smaller prints meandered all over the place. He nodded and the man continued, "You see, I kept my eyes fixed on my goal: this high point. That is the secret of my success in life: I keep my eyes fixed on my goal and go straight for it. You failed to keep your eyes fixed; you failed to keep a straight line and you would have failed to reach this goal by yourself."

The boy said nothing, but later he thought, "But if I had done that I would have missed the rabbit's hole and the fox's footprints and breaking the ice on the stream and climbing that tree and rolling that snow ball down the hill and speaking to the farmer and helping him to feed his sheep. And there was nothing much Dad did on the old hill top anyway except look, lecture and come down again."

& & &

What is life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
- William Henry Davies


The effect of criticism

The minute that someone thinks, "I am a Failure" it blocks learning and makes it very hard to change at all.

There is something about being criticised that makes our thinking rigid. It is as if our minds become like tortoises and retreat into a shell. I know the feeling. Perhaps you do, too.

And the more we are shouted at for mistakes and the more anger has been directed at us the more entrenched we become in our feelings of failure and the deeper we withdraw into our shells. That is natural.

But it is also very unfortunate, as not a lot happens in that shell. A mind in a shell cannot grow. A mind in a straitjacket is not happy. A mind backed into a corner has no freedom of movement and finds it hard to change.

If you criticise someone's ideas they will only try to defend them. Even if you seem to win an argument against them and prove them wrong there is every chance that "A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still".

One of the great virtues of "It's OK to fail..." is that it makes learning possible again. When we stop shouting at ourselves for getting something wrong, our minds can come out of their shells. For the modest price of a little kindness towards ourselves we can come out into the sunlight of reason again.

It is equally useful not to be angry with others for their occasional failures: give them a chance too.

& & &

No man is defeated without some resentment, which will be continued with obstinacy while he believes himself in the right, and asserted with bitterness, if even to his own conscience he is detected in the wrong. - Samuel Johnson


How to manipulate people

It is so easy to manipulate someone who is chained to Success or driven by a fear of Failure.

A woman who wants above all to be a successful wife is easily made to do anything at all that her husband requires. "But Dear, Mrs. Jones always drops her husband off at the station, and I'm sure you can manage things better than her."

A person who wants monetary success more than anything else can be quite easily taken in by a scam. "I don't need to tell someone as wise as you in the way of money that there are certain insider tricks that help the fortunate few make a mint. Now if you have a few spare thousand to invest...."

A man who wants above all to be successful at work can easily be got to work twice the hours for half the money in return for a promise. "Bill, you are fantastic. I have a feeling that the Big Boss has his eye on you for Big Things. Now you are the only one I can trust with this important deal, but I am afraid it will mean working extra hours...."

If the manipulator estimates that the stick rather than the carrot is the better approach then the fear of failure is used.

"OK Jack. There are two doors. One has got a 'Yes, Sir' on it, the other has got 'Good-bye'. You choose."

"I love you, Colin, but I love Edward too, in a sort of way. He is very keen on me, and bought me this lovely coat last week...." And Colin, faced with the prospect of losing her to Edward has to up the ante himself if he is not to fail.

I think you will find that every single time you have been manipulated into a bad bargain it has been as a result of someone either playing on your desire for some form of success or on your fear of some form of failure. That is why, to avoid being manipulated it helps to be able to scorn "Triumph and Disaster, and treat those two impostors just the same."


Judging others

Another aspect of human nature that Jeremy Coyle (who first gave me the phrase "It's OK to fail") showed me clearly was the following.

When he expected 100% from himself then he expected it also from others. When he was able to accept that it was OK for him to make mistakes, then he became more tolerant of other people's mistakes. Driving became more of a pleasure for him after he became more tolerant of the poor skills of other drivers.

It seems more than likely that there are many other people who would be more tolerant of others if they became more tolerant of themselves.

The Pharisees that Jesus compared to poisonous snakes and rotting corpses maintained VERY high standards.

I suspect that in fact they managed to keep their own rules of cleanliness, of giving precisely one tenth of their income to the temple and so on. People with money and power and time can manage this if they put their minds to it.

But it is clear that they made other people's lives a misery by insisting on that same "100% or you are a miserable sinner" rule for others.

A big part of the New Testament message concerns the battle between: "It is not OK to fail! Pharisees rule OK!" and "It's OK to fail... God loves you still!"

Today that battle is between those perfectionists who criticise failure in everyone and those who more realistically and happily accept that some failures are inevitable.

& & &

A perfectionist is someone who takes pains and gives them to others. - Anon.


Failure in exams

It is common for impending exams and tests to make people anxious. Up to a point this anxiety can focus the mind and increase the time spent in preparation. But it is also common for the anxiety to get too great, at which point it makes things worse.

Students can spend so much time dreading failure that there is no time to revise. They spend time worrying when they should be sleeping. Worst of all they can go into the exam room as nervous wrecks scarcely able to read the examination paper.

A similar problem can arise in driving and other practical tests, interviews and job applications. And in all these cases a fear of failure is the main culprit.

The fear creates anxiety, as any fear will. But when the anxiety starts to lead to more thoughts of failure which in turn creates more anxiety which increases the fear of failure... then we have the vicious circle that makes it a Problem.

One way or another it is important to give the person a sense of proportion. It is NOT going to be the end of the world if they fail. In short we need to get into the mind the idea that "It's OK to fail an exam."

But in fact in nine times out of ten the relief achieved by accepting this makes the exam go very well.

& & &

If you really want to do your best in an examination, fling away the book the day before, say to yourself, "I won't waste another minute on this miserable thing, and I don't care an iota whether I succeed or not." Say this sincerely, and feel it; and go out to play, or go to bed and sleep, and I am sure the results next day will encourage you to use the method permanently. - William James


The world changes

It was once possible to make a fortune in dealing in wool in Bradford or cotton in Manchester. And many men did it. Now, no matter how clever or energetic or gifted you are, this is not possible. But plenty of people are thriving in a variety of businesses which did not exist when they were born.

Those who accepted the failures of the old industries could move on. Those who could not accept failure went down with the industries. So note that a man who cannot make a living in a business in which his father thrived is not therefore a failure.

If the economy is in recession then many people will lose their jobs. Is that their fault? No. It is all too easy for them to feel that they are failures, but they have done nothing wrong. If they can accept that the company failed with the economy then they can retain their self-respect and make the best of life.

As I write this there are rumours in the press about a worldwide recession. If that is true then many of us will be affected financially. But those who feel that this is somehow their fault will be the ones who will be most demoralised and will be hardest hit. Others, who are still likely to be very much better off than their grandparents, will retain their self-respect, modify their expectations and make the best of it.

They will be prepared to change their opinions on what is possible in a changed world; they will be prepared to act with a different purpose. And things will in time turn around again; and different industries and opportunities will emerge.

& & &

The circumstances of the world are so variable, that an irrevocable purpose or opinion is almost synonymous with a foolish one. - W. H. Seward


A cartoon

There was a lovely cartoon in Punch once showing two men.

One is a businessman in his fifties with a beautiful house in the country. We see him tearing out in his car in the morning while his gardener, of about the same age, waves a friendly cap.

As the businessman catches his train by the skin of his teeth the gardener is wheeling a barrow in a leisurely way.

The businessman eats a frantic sandwich alone at a desk covered with papers while the gardener is eating his lunch sat under a tree in the friendly company of a robin to share his meal.

While the businessman is stuck chairing a furious meeting the gardener is chatting to some neighbours who are admiring the blooms he has produced.

As the sun sets the gardener cycles contentedly home while the businessman is still struggling with paperwork in a packed train on the long journey back from the city.

The evening sees the successful man slumped in a chair with bags of exhaustion and strain under his eyes while the "failure" is enjoying a pleasant pint and game of darts with his mate at the local.

I think the cartoonist intended us to think again about our own priorities in life and what exactly we take to be the meaning of success and failure and happiness.

& & &

Money never made a man happy yet, nor will it. There is nothing in its nature to produce happiness. The more a man has, the more he wants. Instead of its filling a vacuum, it makes one. If it satisfies one want, it doubles and trebles that want another way. - Benjamin Franklin.


Wear the T-shirt

Nowadays there are shops where you can get shirts printed with any motto you choose. If you are into that sort of thing you could try out the feeling you get from flaunting an attitude which embraces some failure or other.

We are not aiming for the perfect motto. Good enough is good enough. Here are just a few ideas: you can do better.

"It's OK to fail... and be happy."

"It's OK to fail... I'm a failed workaholic!"

"It's OK to fail... to spot my virtues."

"It's OK to fail... I'm a failed anorexic!"

"It's OK to fail... I'm honest enough to admit it."

"It's OK to fail... I'm a failed despot!"

"It's OK to fail... to keep up with the rat race, when you're a human being."

"It's OK to fail... but I've got the courage to ask - Will you?"

"It's OK to fail... to be your ideal."

"It's OK to fail... I'm a failed housewife & ômother & mistress & chef & dishwasher & chauffeur & cleaner & nurse & dutiful daughter - WHAT A RELIEF!"

"It's OK to fail... but I'd like to try with you."

"It's OK to fail... If I'd succeeded I'd have been another shit."

"It's OK to fail... success has ruined many a friendship."

& & &

Underachiever and proud of it. - Bart Simpson T-shirt

I am more and more convinced that our happiness or our unhappiness depends far more on the way we meet the events of life than on the nature of those events themselves. - Wilhelm von Humboldt


Many other people have thought similar things....

Remember happiness doesn't depend upon who you are or what you have; it depends solely upon what you think. - Dale Carnegie

The haunts of happiness are varied, but I have found more often her among little children, home firesides, and country houses than anywhere else. - Sydney Smith

Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful. - Albert Schweitzer

The foolish man seeks happiness in the distance, the wise grows it under his feet. - J. Robert Oppenheimer

The happy people are failures because they are on such good terms with themselves that they don't give a damn. - Agatha Christie

Happiness depends upon ourselves. - Aristotle

Unhappiness is in not knowing what we want and killing ourselves to get it. - Don Herold

Few things are needful to make the wise man happy, but nothing satisfies the fool;- and this is the reason why so many of mankind are miserable. - Rochefoucauld

Those who have easy, cheerful attitudes tend to be happier than those with less pleasant temperaments, regardless of money, "making it" or success. - Dr. Joyce Brothers


Failure in panics

Many people suffer from extreme anxiety or panic attacks.

In very many of these people the important fact is that there is a vicious circle making the attacks worse.

The problem is that they find the symptoms of the attack frightening. But this fear amplifies the symptoms, which increases the fear still further, which amplifies the symptoms some more....

I do not want to oversimplify what can be rather complex cases but it is always very useful to try to break the circle by getting the person to accept, "It's OK to fail to control your feelings." "It's OK to have a panic."

"Ha!" I hear a sufferer say, "That's easy for you to say. YOU have never had one!"

That may be true. But it is also true that a panic that is fought against is worse than one that is accepted, just as it is more painful to vomit if you are fighting against it.

Those who accept that it is OK to have a panic are half way to not being scared of it, and so to breaking the vicious circle that makes it so much worse.

Those who accept that it is OK to lose control at times lose the sense of inferiority or even guilt that so often accompanies or follows the attacks.

One strategy that I have used at times with great success is to ORDER the client to go out and TRY to have a panic. This is saying strongly "It's OK to panic." They usually manage it but are amazed how much weaker it is when experienced in that spirit. And the end of the problem is then not far off.

& & &

Fear can not be banished, but it can be calm and without panic; and it can be mitigated by reason and evaluation. -V. Bush


The wrong lesson

Sadly the lesson that many children learn from failures at school is that "I am a failure in class." In other words they think that they will be unable to learn, be unable to change.

Once upon a time I was tutoring children in maths. Some of these had gone to very expensive schools. But to my surprise I discovered that if they made a mistake the teacher just shouted at them. He did not find out why they had made a mistake; he did not explain how to avoid that mistake. Such children all knew that they were failures at maths.

My approach was quite simple. I let them know that it was OK with me to make mistakes: I was not at all angry. But each time we figured out why the mistake had happened. Pretty soon they would get quite good at maths and start to pass exams.

I learned I was bad at art at school because I got very low marks in it - like 33%. Inevitably I came to see myself as a failure at art: there was something wrong with me.

In fact the "teaching" was limited to instructions like "draw a picture of a jungle" or "draw a street scene". But before the last exam I ever took in art I asked my mother about drawing and she taught me a few simple techniques. From being 26th in the class I rose to 5th - 75%.

In both these cases the real lesson was NOT "I am a failure at..." but "I have had a poor teacher in...."

No good teacher will leave you feeling humiliated, or a failure, but will find in your errors a chance to improve your understanding.

& & &

The secret of successful teaching is to teach accurately, thoroughly, and earnestly; this will impart interest to instructions, and awaken attention to them. - C. Simmons


If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.
- G.K. Chesterton

Many people are brought up on the old saying, "If a thing is worth doing it is worth doing well."

I take it that this means that if you have chosen to do something then it makes sense to give it your best shot.

But sadly many children interpret it to mean "If you do not do it well then you are bad or stupid or lazy." And this makes them decide that the sensible course is not to do it at all.

In practice therefore the old saying becomes, "If a thing HAS to be done well then it will be such a pain that it is NOT worth doing it." And this, of course, leads to a lot not being done. G.K. Chesterton's alternative version is the antidote.

If you need to eat then it is worth preparing some food even if you cannot manage cordon bleu standard. If there is a hole in the roof then it is worth repairing it even if the roof does not look as good as new. If you feel that that girl is worth meeting then it is better to go over and say anything rather than to delay so long in trying to dream up that perfect witty, wise and wonderful opening remark that someone else gets in first with a banal, "Hi! How are you?" If an opportunity has come up in life, do NOT be put off because you cannot manage it perfectly at first. Chances are nobody could. If it's worth doing, it is worth accepting the usual beginner's mistakes and failures. If it is worth doing then it is certainly worth some failures along the way

Be happy with what you have achieved. It's OK if it is far from perfect; you have given it your best shot.

& & &

Men succeed when they realize that their failures are the preparation for their victories. - Ralph Waldo Emerson



Another glaringly obvious fact neglected by the "Super-success in all you do" books is that everyone dies. It is one of the many things that we all share along with eating and breathing, pain and ill-health, loving and being loved.

Every king dies as surely as does every subject, every "successful" person dies as certainly as every "failure".

To the worshipper of Success this is the dark shadow present at every achievement, draining it of much of its inevitably brief glory.

In times past it was a regular Sunday activity to take a walk around the Churchyard. This reminded people of their ancestors, and of mortality.

It was a helpful antidote to the idea that there is some earthly goal which gives lasting happiness. I suspect, however, that spending an hour in remembering the transience of all things made the rest of the week sweeter by contrast. It will have led to an appreciation of the small satisfactions of life.

Worshippers of Success see a Promised Land ahead and they will sacrifice any amount of present happiness for that. They may scarcely know their children and have no time to make real friends. They rush towards some distant goal, which they imagine will justify all the effort. But all too often life has ended before they come to their senses and learn to enjoy the journey.

The value of a book lies in the reading of it, not the final page. And the value of a life lies in the living of it.

& & &

All things born in truth must die, and out of death in truth comes life. Face to face with what must be, cease thou from sorrow. -The Bhagavad Gita.


Life is a race?

Most of us have run races at school. There are clear rules, a start and finish. And the winner is the first to the finish. We are exposed regularly to the sight of athletes racing, motor cars racing and horses racing. So there are races in life, but does that mean that life is a race?

The driver who overtakes you at well over the legal speed limit seems to treat life as a race. The tourist who covers the maximum distance in a day acts as if he is in a race.

Now if you work as a jockey or an athlete or a rally driver then this is true of your job. But as for the rest of us, it is worth remembering that there are big differences between life and sport. People who have the idea that life is a race feel that success is a matter of being faster than others. Their ambition is always to get ahead of others. They see being slower as failure.

But in so many things being slower confers many blessings. A slowly cooked meal tastes better than instant food. Food slowly eaten gives more pleasure. Prolonged lovemaking IS lovemaking. Speed-reading a novel misses the point. A walk through the countryside brings more pleasure to most people than a quick motorised zip through the same. And who in their right mind would watch a video in fast-forward mode? The ambition to be first and fastest in life is often simply folly.

The only finishing line for life is death. If there ARE any prizes given they will not be for getting there first!

& & &

Omnis festinatio est a diabolo. - All haste is from the devil. - Latin proverb

When ambition ends, happiness begins. - Hungarian Proverb


The Serenity Prayer

You have probably come across the well-known prayer:

Lord grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change
The courage to change the things I can.
And the wisdom to know the difference.

This simple prayer contains messages that you will also find in the pages of this book. I would like to show you how.

When I say this prayer it will be at a time when I am unhappy about some aspect of life that I want to change. The prayer therefore helps me to see that unhappiness lies in the gap between the way life is and the way I want it to be.

The prayer then encourages me to ask for help to change one of two things. I either need help in actively changing something about the way life is. Or I need help in accepting that life cannot be as I want it to be.

If I decide to change what I can, then it requires me to act courageously in one way or another. The word "courage" reminds me that there will be inevitable obstacles and failures along this path that I must overcome.

If I decide that I cannot change the way life is, then the prayer guides me to ask for the serenity of surrendering my hopes in life. I am to pray for the serenity of accepting that it is OK to fail to achieve the life I wanted.

Of course it takes wisdom to decide which choice to make, but notice that on both paths of this simple prayer we need the courage or serenity to accept failures of one sort or another.

& & &

There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will. - Epictetus


Making a criminal

I suspect that something like the following goes into making many a criminal. (An intelligent ex-convict I know, who has met far more real criminals, confirms this suspicion.)

There will have been the first crime, usually when young. It may be little more than a thoughtless disregard of the rights of others; it may be a result of peer pressure or copying something seen in a film. It is unlikely to be very serious on an adult scale.

But if that first misdemeanour results in adults saying, "You young criminal!" then the label can easily stick, and from then on the young man or woman will think "I am a criminal." As a result they will act like criminals and consort with criminals.

But if the first crime was met with, "You have committed a crime. But we regard you still as an honest person who has made a mistake," then there is a better chance of NOT making a criminal.

I was quite good at Geography as school. Then a trainee teacher criticised my first piece of work for him. Foolishly I reacted as if he had said I was bad at Geography and I therefore decided I would be bad at Geography, and I became one of the worst - in most senses - pupils in that class. In the end the Head of Geography appealed to my better judgement and I returned to the fold.

The psychology of that experience shows me how, given a different life, I might have gone down many a worse path as a result of being labelled "bad" after one mistake.

One fault does not make a person a failure. One crime does not make a person a criminal.

& & &

Give a dog a bad name and you may as well hang him. - proverb


How not to get married

One client was a young woman in her twenties who had set her heart on marriage but had never managed to find the right man. She was becoming more and more desperate; feeling more and more of a failure and hating it.

In order to get her to accept failure in some measure I said to her, "Just give up for a bit. Spend nine months accepting being single. Then, and only then, you can start to look again."

She relaxed. She was less desperate. She therefore became more attractive and more open to new possibilities. Three months later she was engaged.

Another woman was in her thirties and despairing because although she had had a number of relationships they had all failed. And she was getting older. And she longed for children.

In her case we did a fascinating exploration of an imaginary ideal home. She liked it all: the big kitchen, the presence of children, the quality of the light. The only thing she hated was the formal clothes in the "husband's" bedroom. That was a big clue to the problem.

To cut a long story short it turned out that she had always been going out with men that her father thought were right for her. She had used his criterion of success: a suited professional. I got her to accept failing by her father's standards - after all he was not going to marry the man - and soon afterwards she found a man with a casual jumper who was not in a traditional professional job. She is now the very happy mother of two children living a happy life in the wilds of Scotland in a home filled with the very light she had first seen in her imagination.

In both cases the happy outcome was a result of an acceptance of a failure. The first woman accepted that "It's OK to fail to have found a husband yet." The second woman accepted that "It's OK to fail to find a husband who pleases my father."


Failure and social confidence

Many people, especially young people, lack confidence with other people. They can feel "They don't like me" or "I don't know what to say" or "They are looking down on me for being shy" or a thousand variations on those themes. Perhaps you know the feeling?

This problem gets worse when the setting is the sexual arena and they especially lack confidence when it comes to approaching someone they are attracted to.

The fact is that social skills are complex and take time to learn. No-one can learn complex skills without making mistakes. And yet too many young people so dread making social mistakes that they will not even try for fear of failure or humiliation.

Overcoming this problem in the natural way usually involves getting two things right. The first is the right attitude. The second is the right environment.

The right environment is one in which there is an opportunity to be with people with whom they have something in common - usually work, hobbies or neighbourhood. (For some isolated people this is not always easy.)

The right attitude involves changing "I want these people to like me" to "I can find something likable and interesting in these people." And it involves a changing "I don't know the right thing to say," to "It's OK to fail to say the right thing always." This is the thought that liberates us to practice, and it is mainly through practice that we improve any skill.

& & &

The way to develop self-confidence is to do the thing you fear and get a record of successful experiences behind you. - William Jennings Bryan


The higher you climb the harder you fall

The Germans have a word - schadenfreude - which expresses that all-too-human malicious pleasure in others' misfortunes. What is it, I wonder, that makes many of us particularly ready to enjoy the discomfiture of those who have achieved success? Whatever the reason, it is always there, hovering like a vulture over the heads of the rich and famous waiting for a chance to swoop. And the higher the person stands in society the more keenly felt is the schadenfreude if they fall.

Judging by what sells newspapers there is a lot of it about. And it exists in all walks of life. If you get promoted then there are plenty of people below you who will get a thrill if you get demoted or sacked. If you live in a house in a desirable neighbourhood there will be plenty who will, sadly, rejoice if you run into hard times and have to sell up.

The ancient Greeks seem to have felt that the Gods themselves shared this feeling. If any mortal got above himself, and prided himself on his Success then the goddess of retribution - Nemesis - would see to it that paid for his presumption.

Nowadays the media have picked up Nemesis' cloak - which has a somewhat bedraggled look in their hands. I suspect that they are less discriminating than her in detecting hubris.

But since those suffering from hubris are those who have confused having a success with being a success, they will consequently feel the pain of their downfall acutely. On the other hand those who have learned to treat Triumph and Disaster; Success and Failure as impostors will be immune to both hubris and nemesis.

& & &

Character is that which can do without success. - Ralph Waldo Emerson


Failure and self-esteem

The level of a person's self-esteem is directly linked to their attitude to failure.

"I have failed to pass that test. I am totally stupid." says Helen. What does that do to her self-esteem?

"I have failed that test. OK, but I can do better than that, and will put a bit more thought into preparing next time, and will pass then," says Hermione. Is her self-esteem lowered?

"I really wanted to marry June, and she has rejected me. That's the end of things for me. I'll never ask another woman," says Timothy. In his eyes that one failure has convinced him that he is totally unacceptable to women. What has happened to his self-esteem?

Tony says, "I really wanted to marry June, and she has rejected me. OK, but it's better to find out that we are incompatible now rather than later. Next time I'll do better." Do you agree that Tony's self-esteem is unimpaired?

Helen and Timothy don't have the "It's OK to fail.." attitude; they feel themselves to be failures and their self-esteem suffers. Hermione and Tony accept the failure, but do not confuse it with being a failure. They retain their self-esteem.

And it works the other way too: the better your self-esteem the easier it is to take a positive attitude to a failure or two. The essence of self-esteem is the feeling that you are who you are and neither successes or failures change that.

A happy person is one whose self-esteem is not shaken by the ups and downs of life and who knows that his fate is not always in his hands.

& & &

Ofttimes nothing profits more than self-esteem, grounded on what is just and right. - Milton


He who never fails, never learns. - Anon

The quotation above is one of many in this book which emphasise that you can learn more when you make a mistake than when things are going right. That is because if things are going right we just go on doing the same old thing. It is when things go wrong that we start to take notice and so there is some chance of us learning something new.

That is true, but there are many responses to mistakes that stop us taking that chance. Here are just three to look out for.

1. Blaming others. In this case all the effort goes into establishing that it was someone else's fault. Extreme examples are: "He shouldn't have put his nose in the way of my fist," "She should not have looked so attractive if she did not want sex," "Someone should have warned me that the gun would go off if I pulled the trigger."

2. Spurious self-justification. This is when someone spends unproductive time arguing on the lines of: "It wasn't my fault," "How was I to know the gun was loaded!" "There was nothing I could have done to stop it," "I am sure I did what anyone would have done."

3. Excessive self-criticism. Many people, avoiding the two unpleasant reactions above, go to another extreme which is just as unproductive of learning. They totally demoralise themselves with such thoughts as: "I am hopeless," "I will never learn," "I may as well stop trying," "It would be better if I had never been born."

& & &

To make no mistakes is not in the power of man; but from their errors and mistakes the wise and good learn wisdom for the future. - Plutarch


Failure and...

On previous pages I have written about some everyday problems - insomnia, anorexia, examinations, sexual problems, smoking, panics, inferiority feelings - that have something in common.

You may have noticed that in most of them there is a vicious circle acting to make things worse. (It would take another book to explore the implications of this important fact.)

But the other common factor is the subject of this book. It is the fear of failure which is making things worse. The fear may be about failing in an exam, a failure to get a date, a failure to lose weight, a failure to make love or a failure to keep in control. But the fear is itself making the problem far, far worse.

Of course there are many other problems in life which have the same common factors. Rather than giving a separate page to each - this is not that kind of book - I will identify a few here. These may help you to be aware of other problems your life or the lives of those around which fall into the same pattern.

Each of the following problems has been brought to me by one or more sufferers over the years.

A fear of a failure of your health can create so much worry and stress that your health suffers.

A fear of losing your job can affect your performance so much that it leads to the sack.

A fear of losing your partner to someone else leads to so much jealousy and suspicion that it drives them away.

A fear of failing to remember things often leads to an anxiety which prevents recall.

A fear of failing as a parent can lead to such excessive attention that the child finds it seriously disturbing.

A fear of failing to have a baby can arouse such physical stress than it inhibits either sexual performance or conception.

A fear of failing to be able eat in public quite commonly leads to a nervousness in the stomach that makes impossible to eat in public.

A fear of failing to urinate in a public urinal often leads to an inability to urinate. This is quite a common problem in men.

A fear of failing to speak well on a platform very commonly leads to enough nervousness, stammering and sweating and above all self-consciousness to make the performance a failure.

A fear of failing to control blushing leads to embarrassment which in turn produces the very blushing that is feared.

A fear of failing to control a shaky hand leads to more nervousness which makes the hand shake.

A fear of failing to fill in forms properly can lead to so much anxiety that they are not filled in at all - which is much worse.

A fear of failing to be able to make a shot in snooker can lead to a curious "freezing" of the elbow which makes it impossible to shoot.

A fear of failing to make a shot in golf leads to a tension which results in terrible shots.

A fear of vomiting, especially in public, often produces an anxiety which leads to a feeling of nausea and then vomiting.

I could go on... but it should be very clear that: A fear of failure has a terrible tendency to produce the very thing feared. A healthy ration of "It's OK to fail..." can prevent a hundred such problems.

& & &

Desponding fear, of feeble fancies full, weak and unmanly, loosens every power. - James Thompson


Many other people have thought similar things....

Success consists of going from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm. - Winston Churchill

It is only an error of judgement to make a mistake, but it argues an infirmity of character to adhere to it when discovered. The Chinese say, "The glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time you fall." - Bovee

The wisest person is not the one who has the fewest failures but the one who turns failures to the best account. - Richard Grant

We women adore failures. They lean on us. - Oscar Wilde

Just because something doesn't do what you planned it to do doesn't mean it's useless - Thomas Eddison

If you're not failing every now and again, it's a sure sign you're not doing anything very innovative. - Woody Allen

Remember the two benefits of failure. First, if you do fail, you learn what doesn't work; and second, the failure gives you the opportunity to try a new approach. - Roger von Oech

To expect defeat is nine-tenths of defeat itself. - Francis Crawford

We come to learn that it does not pay to grieve too much over our errors. Ordinarily we try to do the best we can.- T.L. Masson

Good people are good because they've come to wisdom through failure. - William Saroryan


When things are bad

There are times in most people's lives when things look overwhelmingly difficult. The gap between the life you wanted and the one you have has become impossibly large.

There is no desire, no motivation, no time to read a book, like this or any other. There is no hope. Failure seems inevitable.

For myself I find the following habit useful at such times. I reduce all ambition to the simple, "I'll just see if I can make it through to bedtime." That is the same as saying, "I feel so bad that It's OK to fail at anything for the rest of the day." It then does not matter if I don't succeed at anything else that day.

So far I have always achieved this modest goal.

It does not take any psychic power on my behalf to say to you, the reader, "Congratulations. You, also, have always achieved that goal."

I reward myself with a bedtime in which to do nothing but surrender myself to sleep. That is important.

And day follows night, and the seasons change and things turn around: at least that is what I have noticed.

& & &

It is a delicious moment, certainly, that of being well nestled in bed and feeling that you shall drop gently to sleep. The good is to come, not past; the limbs are tired enough to render the remaining in one posture delightful; the labour of the day is done. A gentle failure of the perceptions creeps over you; the spirit of consciousness disengages itself once more, and with slow and hushing degrees, like a mother detaching her hand from that of a sleeping child, the mind seems to have a balmy lid closing over it, like the eye - it is closed - the mysterious spirit has gone to take its airy rounds. - Leigh Hunt


Ill health

One of the most fundamental gaps in life is a gap between our present state of physical health and the state that we are used to and therefore expect. Ill health is one of the most acutely experienced gaps in life, and is the cause of some of the greatest unhappiness,. If that gap is large for you at the moment then you have my greatest sympathy.

Most illnesses are accompanied by physical symptoms including a variety of aches and pains or great discomforts or weaknesses. But they are also usually accompanied by more or less emotional distress, including anxiety, fear, misery or depression. And this distress is not part of the illness, but is a result of our attitude to the illness

You can see this distinction in practice by looking at other people. You may know someone who copes with the pains of toothache with equanimity and yet is terrified by the smallest hint of nausea. Another may live quite calmly with cancer but be distressed beyond measure at the loss of hair caused by chemotherapy. Some people seem to feel no distress at any physical disorder, whatever the pains, while others, at the other end of the spectrum, feel enormous distress at disorders so slight that there is little wrong other than the symptoms of their fear.

It therefore makes sense, if I am ill, for me to spend time reducing the distress while nature and medicine deal with the disease and pain. How do I do that? To help a child who is ill to feel less distressed we may say, "There, there!. You may feel terrible now, but you will feel better soon," To reassure myself I adopt a similar attitude, "It's OK. Nothing to worry about. I'll get over it one way or another. Just make the best of it."

And you may perhaps see that any practice I have had in accepting other setbacks, such as failures, in life, will stand me in very good stead when I do that.


When failure is the end of the world

In the smaller columns of the newspapers you can find the unsung tragedies of those who cannot accept that, "It's OK to fail..." There may be the report of a coroner's inquest on a farmer who killed himself because he finally lost the battle to feed the overdraft and mortgage on the farm which had been his father's and his grandfather's before him.

And there are stories of men who, unable to support their families in the way they think they ought to, go to the wild extreme of first killing wife and children and then themselves. And the Wall Street Crash sent many men jumping to their deaths because they saw the loss of wealth as the end of the world.

The sad thing is that none of these people was in any physical danger. None was facing anything worse than bankruptcy which, demoralising as it is, has been the doorway to a new beginning for millions. But these suicides were following the unwritten rule "If you fail... you must die."

This rule makes no sense particularly when you consider that "failures" can come as a result of factors over which we have no control. Being humane I do not even believe that we should apply it to politicians or footballers who have made big mistakes!

The real reason I want to draw attention to these sad cases is to remind us of how insane the thought, "It's not OK to fail," can make people. It makes them do totally irrational things. These stark and tragic cases are only exceptional in their finality. Nearly everybody reacts with some degree of irrationality when they are in a grip of that thought. Regaining sanity is often a matter of accepting that "It's OK to fail... and stay sane."

& & &

O, that way madness lies; let me shun that. - Shakespeare


Dancing in the rain

Once upon a time two little girls, Mary and Caroline, were walking home from school when they were caught in a sudden downpour.

As it happened they had recently seen that old film "Singing in the Rain" with Gene Kelly and so they were soon dancing in the deepening puddles, laughing at the rain and singing whatever came to mind.

When they reached their homes their clothes were completely soaked.

Mary's mother was furious, "You should have sheltered! Your clothes and shoes are ruined! You'll catch your death of cold!"

Caroline's mother smiled happily as she listened to a joyful account of the walk from school while fetching her daughter dry clothes and helping her to change.

Years passed. The girls became women.

Life presented each with a share of good times and bad; of sunny and rainy days. When the bad times came Mary felt personally guilty; felt that she had failed to shelter away from them properly.

But Caroline had a weird habit at such times. She would simply wait for the next time it poured and then go out and dance in the rain. It's OK to fail ... to keep dry. It can be fun!

& & &

How beautiful is the rain!
After the dust and heat,
In the broad and fiery street,
And in the narrow lane;
How beautiful is the rain!
- Longfellow


When one door shuts another opens

When one relationship ends, there is space in your life for a new one. When one job ends there is time in your life for another job or another activity.

It might sound a bit heretical to say this, but it is my observation that a great many people find happiness as a result of a door slamming in their face.

Not at once, of course, which is why they come to me as clients. Losing a job; an illness; a bereavement; a divorce: these can all be accompanied by the feeling of being stopped in your tracks.

My father-in-law lost his Sales Manager job after a heart attack: a double disaster. But he took up hypnotherapy and was never happier.

A student I knew was failing terribly with his Chemistry course at university. In the end the stress of it all was too much and he threw up the course and was soon working in the City being paid for his hobby of dealing in stocks and shares.

Countless people have been divorced only to find that it was not the ultimate disgrace they feared but the door to happiness.

Most of us instinctively resist any change that is forced on us. That is a pity. Many changes bring opportunities that we can seize. Even if necessity forces our hand at times we are always free to accept necessity in a spirit of optimism and give it our best shot: if we do we will feel much happier than if we sullenly resist. And by accepting that "It's OK to fail..." when one door closes we are in a much better frame of mind to find the next door that will open for us.

& & &

Freedom is willed necessity. - C.S. Lewis


Sweet are the uses of adversity

There is a pleasure in buying new things. There is another pleasure that comes from finding a secondhand bargain.

There is a pleasure from being able to pay to have the thing you want made or built, with expense no object. There is another pleasure that comes from doing it yourself on shoestring. There is a pleasure in luxury holidays. There is a different pleasure in backpacking. There is a pleasure in a success, and also in a failure.

What pleasure is that? you ask. Well half of the pleasures above are certainly open to people who are financial failures. In other cases pleasure may be too strong a word, but there really are satisfactions to be found after a failure.

There is, for example, the feeling of "Well, I have hit rock bottom now. The only way is up."

Or it may be the relief, "Well, this is nothing like as frightening as I was sure it was going to be!"

Or it may be the freedom from responsibility: "OK, it seems I am really not capable of that. Someone else will have to take the responsibility for doing it."

Or it may be the sense of new directions, "I can't go down that path. Time to start exploring new ones. When one door shuts another opens."

Or it may be a sense of peace after the rush, of silence after the fight, of calm after the storm.

As Shakespeare writes for the character of the banished Duke in As You Like It: "Sweet are the uses of adversity."

& & &

Prosperity is not without many fears and distastes; and adversity is not without comforts and hopes. - Bacon


Two kinds of good and bad

The English language is limited. Eskimos, I have read, have scores of words for subtly different kind of snow. In English we have to do with "snow" and "slush", or add adjectives.

We are also limited, more dangerously, in describing varieties of goodness and badness. The most important distinction seems to me to be actions done with good or bad WILL as opposed to good or bad SKILL

If you buy someone a present with a genuine desire to please then you are showing good will. But you may not be very good at choosing such presents and in that case you are showing poor skill.

Another person might have exquisite skill in choosing gifts and yet give them with a bad will - with a cold heart, calculating with precision the return to be expected from the gift.

If a child drops a vase it is a failure of skill. If the child deliberately smashes another child's toy in a temper it is a failure of good will.

It is my opinion (and on the whole you will find the law and common sense agree) that things done with bad will are blameworthy; and should result in a feeling of guilt which can be assuaged by apology or reparation. Things done merely with bad skill are not normally a cause for blame or guilt.

As a simplification of what can be a very complex area I will suggest the rule of thumb:

It's OK to fail to act with good skill... if you then commit yourself to practicing some more. It's OK to fail to act with good will... if you accept the blame, apologise and try to make amends.

& & &

There is nothing good or evil save in the will. Epicetus


The two ravens

Two ravens are sitting on a person's shoulders. The first raven says things like:

"You are a failure."

"You are poor."

"You look ugly."

"You are stupid."

"You wretched sinner."

"You will never get anywhere."

"Your mistakes are unforgivable."

The second raven is far more upbeat and positive:

"You deserve to be a success."

"You should be as rich as other people."

"Don't settle for second best."

"That's not good enough for you."

"Aim to be perfect."

"You deserve to be beautiful."

"You should be able to do just as well as the others."

I think that it is pretty clear that the first raven aims to destroy self esteem. But the second raven, which seems at first to be improving self-esteem, is in truth only increasing dissatisfaction. By taking turn and turn about they act together to increase the gap between what I think of myself and what I think I should be. Together they make me much more unhappy than either could do alone.

One is saying "You ARE a failure." The other says, "Worship Success." The best response to them is "Shoo!"

& & &

Raven. A bird of ill omen. They are said to forbode death and bring disease. - Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable


Two devils

On the previous page I imagined two ravens sitting on a person's shoulders exerting a malign influence. In earlier centuries the word "devil" would probably have been used in place of "raven". A modern psychologist might call them something on the lines of "ego fractions" or "internalised identity constructs".

Shakespeare might well have said, "What's in a name? A demon by any other name behaves the same."

The great advantage of using simple pictures and words is that it makes the whole thing easier to deal with. If I have a faulty internalised identity construct then I tend to feel even worse. If someone has drawn attention to a raven or devil on my shoulder I can have a strong sense of "That is not me! Go away!" which is a great help in eliminating it.

Here is another characteristic exchange in which the two devils, like the Good Guy and the Bad Guy who are so effective in brainwashing, make a person more and more unhappy.

BG: "Look at you. You are so miserable. You are hopeless!"
GG: "No, you are not. You could be fantastic. Go out and get a book on being a Success."
BG: (A week after reading the book.) "Do you feel any better? No. Everyone else has their lives transformed by that book! You are an even more miserable failure than before."
GG: (After a few days.) "Look there's someone here has made a fortune on a foolproof scheme which is not pyramid selling! This your chance to make it big. You deserve it."
BG: (A few months later and several thousand pounds poorer.) "Now you really are a miserable failure."

Whatever name we give this process, it does harm by glorifying success and humiliating failure. In mediaeval days they believed that naming devils gave you power to get rid of them. The best name is the name that helps you to get rid of them!


How to sell

There are many books and courses available on How to Sell. They usually start with a lot of good advice on how to listen to people and get on with them.

But once the courses get beyond the elements of normal human courtesy and listening I find myself getting unhappy. To my rather simple mind they start reading like handbooks on how to persuade people to spend more than they wanted for something that they were quite happy without.

The courses suggest, among other skills and techniques, that you increase both the customer's desire for the product and their fear of failing to get it.

Time and again I have been lured into this trap. I am proceeding happily with life and then I read some advert or carelessly start to look at something in a shop that I had no intention of buying and get approached by a smiling "assistant". And time and time again I have felt the thrill of new possibilities opening up, and the sense of dismay if I were to fail to achieve them.

Sometimes I bought something - and mostly later regretted the waste of money. Sometimes I did not buy and was left with an inarticulate sense of deprivation.

Late in life I have learned to say "no" to salespeople and to say to myself, "It's OK to fail to buy when I didn't want the thing in the first place."

& & &

Rely on your listening skills to determine precisely how to present your product or service in such a way that it creates a strong emotional desire for it remember, the fear of loss is really as powerful as the joy of gain. - Academy of Sales Success (website).


How often should I fail?

It is one thing to accept the inevitability of failures. It is another to keep banging your head against a wall.

When I was a boy there was a song about High Hopes - High, Apple Pie in the Sky Hopes. You may know it. It involved an ant which brought down a rubber tree plant and a ram that broke a hole in a dam. The moral seemed to be that these creatures had High Hopes and persistence and achieved what seemed impossible goals. Nice song.

This reminds me of countless films I have seen and books I have read that illustrate the same moral. The chorus girl keeps trying until she becomes a star. The soldiers keeps fighting until they win through. A few brave humans manage, against all the odds, to kill off the invading aliens. Nice films.

But life ain't necessarily like that, as the experience of most gamblers shows. Persistence in betting against the odds guarantees only bigger losses. In the real world persistence in butting a dam only guarantees a sore head, and the odds are stacked against the chorus girls, and millions of soldiers die. Maybe we wouldn't manage too well against real aliens, either.

So where do we draw the line? I suggest somewhere between not trying anything at all because of fear of failure and being so enslaved by a distant vision of Success that we sacrifice too much of life by striving against hopeless odds.

I do not think that there is any rule to decide where the line should be; but for a particular person in a particular situation it is often pretty obvious when it's time to call it a day for a particular undertaking.

& & &

If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Then quit. No use being a damn fool about it. - W. C. Fields


The sunk cost fallacy

It is rare to come across a book which is really fresh and different. One of these, for me, is Stuart Sutherland's Irrationality - The Enemy Within.

One irrationality he describes is called the "sunk cost" error. Governments frequently make it. They start a project. After a while the costs escalate. "Oh, dear," a Civil Servant says, "We have already sunk 10,000,000 into this computer system, but it looks as if it will cost five times as much. Do we back out or go on?" All too often they go on and waste a much larger sum of taxpayers money because "If we stop we will have to admit that we were wrong and wasted 10 ,000,000."

If we have put money or effort or time into something or someone then we hate to accept that it was a mistake. The bigger the investment, the greater the reluctance, because the mistake seeems larger.

So someone who has struggled for years at a job will not resign, because to do so would make the enormous cost of effort seem a terrible mistake. If the job had been easy, it would also be easy to leave!

If "failure is not an option" for you all is fine until the first situation that really is a mistake. Then your attitude forces you into investing more and more until you having nothing left.

It is OK to fail when the costs are small if it will cost a furtune to fail later.

& & &

The refusal to abandon a useless project in which a sum of money has been invested is known as the "sunk cost error"... Our inability to acknowledge our own errors even to ourselves is one of the most fundamental causes of irrationality. - Stuart Sutherland



Am I suggesting that a failure should never make me unhappy? No. It seems to me that to be human means to feel feelings: we are not machines or computers. And among those feelings must be counted feelings of disappointment, and regret and grief and unhappiness or woe.

Now small failures of skill should not evoke much of any of these feelings. But larger failures in life seem to me inevitably to lead to woe.

To deny a failure is to submit to the lasting discomfort of living a lie. To accept a failure involves accepting any sadness that results. But that sadness will pass.

It is not of the nature of feelings themselves to last forever, if they see the light of day. An icy sorrow may last in the soul for ever if kept in refrigerating concealment. But if it is brought into the warmth of consciousness and human talk it will slowly melt. And a burning resentment can be heated by the pressure cooker of repression, but will cool if expressed. Any feeling freely admitted will pass.

As woe will come, so woe will go. And when it has passed there is room for new hope and new life and new joy.

& & &

Man was made for Joy and Woe;
And when this we rightly know
Through the World we safely go.
Joy and Woe are woven fine,
A Clothing for the Soul divine;
Under every grief and pine
Runs a joy with silken twine
- William Blake


Every ladder has a bottom rung

How do I find out if someone with an ambition is suffering from a fruitless worship of Success or simply needs some help along the way? I present a ladder and see how they react to it.

John and Mary both say they want to be rich. "Fine." I might say. "Here is 10 each. Go away and find a way of doubling it." Now that is the first rung of a ladder which leads to a fortune. If we repeat the same step with the 20 and then the 40, we have 10,000 after climbing 10 rungs and another seven steps takes us over the 1,000,000.

John is scornful. "Huh. I don't fancy that." He throws the ladder away. Mary says, "Thanks!" and climbs the first rung. Mary has a good chance of becoming rich because she enjoys the process and will take the steps. John only desires the Dream and will almost certainly fail.

Almost every realistic goal or ambition or desire has a ladder reaching up to it. Those who make progress are prepared to climb it one step at a time. It's OK to fail to leap to the top in one jump: you need only take the next step. It's OK to fall down a step on the ladder, you can easily climb it again.

But those who are too proud, or impatient, or lazy to use the ladder will inevitably waste their lives waiting for a miracle. Perhaps they have watched too many films in which there is no time to portray the slow progress which is the norm in life, so they imagine that life always proceeds by sudden, wonderful leaps. It does not.

& & &

The road to success is not to be run upon by seven-leagued boots. Step by step, little by little, bit by bit - that is the way to wealth, that is the way to wisdom, that is the way to glory. Pounds are the sons not of pounds, but of pence. - C. Buxton


The ugly duckling

I find myself retelling the story of the ugly duckling quite often as it contains a truth about life that is significant for many people.

You will remember that there was once a duckling that seemed to be a complete failure. All the ducks and ducklings in the farmyard agreed that he was he wrong colour; his feet were too big; his voice was wrong. Indeed everything he did was wrong. Try as he might he could not satisfy the others at all.

And so, the story goes, he ran away. He found refuge at another farm but that was worse: he was judged a failure by other animals - a dog and a cat and a cockerel - for being unable to do what they did.

So he ran away again into the wild marshes, away from all other creatures and there eked out a miserable existence through the long winter months, his self-esteem at rock bottom.

In the spring he saw, flying overhead, the most beautiful creatures he had ever seen. They flew down towards him. He felt such a failure that he imagined that they had come to kill him - the only likely fate for one so despicable.

But of course they were swans who recognised him as a fellow swan and greeted him with enthusiasm. He had found his own kind. The story ends there, but we take it that though he may meet problems later in life they will be nothing like as bad.

The reason I retell this story is that in the modern world it very often happens that a person finds herself or himself in a family or a group of people with quite different temperaments and ideas. By the standards of the group the person does not fit in and feels a failure. It is clear to me, on the outside, that they would be happy in another group - and I try to steer them in the right direction.

It is OK to fail to conform to the wrong group: find the right one.


Be yourself

If there is one thing that most people dislike if they detect it in another, it is falseness. Conversely most people respond well to naturalness of any kind. That is one of the good things about young children: they have not learned to pretend to be other than they are.

Even the crook who openly admits that he is on the make, and will take advantage of people when he can, is often regarded more highly than the clergyman suspected of a bit of hypocrisy.

Think about it. What effect does it have on you when you notice that someone is pretending to be richer or cleverer or more popular than they really are? You might feel some compassion for them, of course. You might admire their nerve. But I suspect that you will find their lies and posing generally something which mars your relationship rather than improves it.

What follows from this? Suppose, like me, you have a poor memory for names. If I try to hide this failing then I am likely to cross the street so as not to meet someone whose name I have forgotten - this will make them think I dislike them. Or I might speak to them, but with so much of my mind on a desperate search for their name that my conversation is stilted in the extreme. They will then think I am weird. If, however, I accept that It's OK to fail to remember someone's name and ask them, the rest of the conversation will go well.

The fact is that being yourself is the best strategy. Any attempt to pretend to be something else leads to problems sooner or later.

& & &

This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man. - Shakespeare


When is it right to say "It's OK to fail..."?

It should be obvious that the saying "It's OK to fail..." should only be applied at certain times and in certain circumstances. Blindly applying it at ALL times and in ALL places is as foolish as it is for ALL rules.

Before an event the phrase is best used if the fear of failure is endangering the whole activity.

A student is not getting any sleep because he is afraid of failing the exam. If he can accept "It's OK to fail to do well" and "It's OK not to sleep much as long as I pass the night pleasantly" then not only will he sleep and feel better, he will also do better in the exam.

I would NOT recommend using the phrase before an event by someone whose standards are already low.

After the event - when a failure has happened - the phrase is best used, above all, to prevent the self-destroying notion "I am a failure." It is also useful to prevent pointless attempts to change the past and preserve a perfect record. It is also useful to prevent an excess of guilt making it impossible to reason out what can be learned from the mistake.

I would NOT recommend its use, after the event, as a facile excuse which will prevent anything being learned from the mistake.

This book looks at the question of failure and success from many different angles to make it easier to see when and how to use the phrase, "It's OK to fail..." But I know that I will fail in some cases and there will always be people who will insist on using it at the wrong times and in the wrong way!

& & &

In the world of mules there are no rules. - Ogden Nash


Many other people have thought similar things....

A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to. - Bob Dylan

I want to be what I was when I wanted to be what I am now. - Anon.

If we fasten our attention on what we have, rather than on what we lack, a very little wealth is sufficient. - F. Johnson

Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants. - Epicurus

Fear can not be banished, but it can be calm and without panic; and it can be mitigated by reason and evaluation. - Vannevar Bush

It is not good for all of our wishes to be fulfilled. Through sickness, we recognise the value of health; through evil, the value of good; through hunger the value of food; through exertion, the value of rest. - Greek proverb

After all, our worst misfortunes never happen, and most miseries lie in anticipation. - Balzac

Life is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans. - John Lennon

The wisdom of the wise and the experience of ages may be preserved by quotation. - Disraeli

If it is the truth, what does it matter who says it? - Anon


And to end...

I remember my father Morien, a teacher, often saying, "First I tell them what I'm going to tell them. Then I tell them. And then I tell them what I've told them." This is the third part.

If you have read most of the thoughts in the earlier pages then I hope that you can see more clearly the following facts of life:

Unhappiness is always related to the gap between life as it is and our expectations of it.

A fear of failure (not just a dislike of it) can cause all manner of problems.

A worship of Success breeds discontent if, as is usually the case, it leads to nothing. If it should be achieved then the hidden costs very often greatly outweight the benefits.

The manipulation of a combination of a fear of Failure and a worship of Success is the stock in trade of con-men, aggressive salemen, brain-washers and the two ravens.

I hope also that you can see the way in which life is likely to be happier for those who take it with an attitude of "It's OK to fail..." - remember the importance of the dots.

You may wonder if I have this attitude. And the answer is, "Much of the time. But not always. And when I don't is the time I get unhappy!" And so I do not expect anyone else to be able to do it always.

Life is seldom neat and tidy; we are all a mixture of feelings and thoughts and attitudes. At times I marvel that we manage at all, but most of us do pretty well most of the time.

I think that we should all be a good deal happier with ourselves for all those aspects of life that we have got right; all the things we have learned; all the things we can do; all the good times we have had and the good friends we have made. We should count our blessings more.

And I am suggesting that life will get better in all those ways if we do not take failures too seriously so that we can learn from them and compensate for them much more easily. And if we do not take Success too seriously then we will find a hundred small successes coming much more easily.

So as a final thought, please do not take it too seriously if you find you cannot apply the ideas of this book perfectly, or all the time. I can't. No-one can. But if you take it in a lighter way, and perhaps dip into it again every so often, I think that you will find that you will succeed in small ways to make your life a good bit happier: and that, after all, is what makes life worth living.

& & &

"May you find happiness" - The Dalai Lama



Chris Pajak cpajak@hotmail.com Jan 2007

Morning Dylan.

Strangely felt much better after reading its ok to fail. Was very calming and trauma only lasted a day. There's a lot of good stuff in there.


§ Foreword by Brian May
§ Strange Title
§ What this book is about:
§ It's OK to fail to read this book properly!
§ Freedom for the normal person
§ Failing does not make you a failure!
§ The Fear of Failure
§ Accept failures?
§ Unhappiness
§ Books on Success
§ Failing is the norm
§ Ambition
§ It takes more courage to fail than to succeed
§ Successful men
§ Inferiority complexes
§ From the Bhagavad Gita
§ Trying to fail?
§ Living a lie
§ The Pyramids
vIt's OK to fail...
§ Many other people have thought similar things....(1)
§ Jesus was a failure
§ The price of Success
§ Failure in weight control
§ Life is a roller coaster ride
§ Success-worship is a virus
§ Penicillin was a mistake
§ Stress
§ A successful failure
§ Happiness
§ From Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome
§ Smoking
§ The Prodigal Son
§ Failure and Guilt
§ A drawback of success
§ George Washington
§ Insomnia is when you fail to go to sleep
§ Many other people have thought similar things..(2)
§ From The Bhagavad Gita
§ Don't let other people label you a failure
§ The Oak and the Willow
§ Who'd watch a film without failures?
§ Success may be found at the foot of the rainbow
§ The right environment
vFailure in sex
§ Pyramid selling
§ Suicides
§ The magic question!
§ Infidelity
§ Woozles and Wizzles
§ There are few mountain tops
§ Laws or Love?
§ Good advice
§ The roughage of life
§ Success is an addictive drug
§ Unloving rules
§ Rules have their right place
§ Many other people have thought similar things....(3)
§ "It's wrong to glorify failure"
§ Looking Glass Land
§ Count your blessings
§ Not Best but Good Enough
§ Admitting a failure is honesty
§ The worship of Success leads to deceit
§ What other people think
§ The Lost Sheep
§ "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown."
§ Failure and regret
§ Making Paths: A story
§ The effect of criticism
§ How to manipulate people
§ Judging others
§ Failure in exams
§ The world changes
§ A cartoon
§ Wear the T-shirt
§ Many other people have thought similar things....(4)
§ Failure in panics
§ The wrong lesson
§ If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly
§ Death
§ Life is a race?
§ The Serenity Prayer
§ Making a criminal
§ How not to get married
§ Failure and social confidence
§ The higher you climb the harder you fall
§ Failure and self-esteem
§ He who never fails, never learns
§ Failure and...
§ Many other people have thought similar things....(5)
§ When things are bad
§ Ill health
§ When failure is the end of the world
§ Dancing in the rain
§ When one door shuts another opens
§ Sweet are the uses of adversity
§ Two kinds of good and bad
§ The two ravens
§ Two devils
§ How to sell
§ How often should I fail?
§ The sunk cost fallacy
§ Feelings
§ Every ladder has a bottom rung
§ The ugly duckling
§ Be yourself
§ When is it right to say "It's OK to fail..."?
§ Many other people have thought similar things....(6)
§ And to end...

Here are another couple of books you might like:

Image of 4 circles
The Four Circles of Life
Boy making path in snow
Your Path in Life