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.
What do you mean, "It's OK to fail"?
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!" 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
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
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,
Ozymandias of Egypt
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
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
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.
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?
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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..".
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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."
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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"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.
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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 ....
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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."
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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."
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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..."
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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."
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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
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?"
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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.
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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.
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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
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
When I was just a little girl
When I was just a little boy
When I was just a little girl,
I'm proud to be a Pharisee
My father was a farmer poor
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
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.
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.
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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.
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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.
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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."
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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.
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How many of my poorest subjects
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.
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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."
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What is life if, full of care,
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.
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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."
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.
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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.
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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.
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The circumstances of the world are so variable, that an irrevocable purpose or opinion is almost synonymous with a foolish one. - W. H. Seward
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.
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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."
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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.
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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.
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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.
by Brian May
Here are another couple of books you might like:
The Four Circles of Life
Your Path in Life