I don't often do self-help, inspirational, spiritual books - I don't find much use in them to be honest (largely this has to do with I feel like I'm fI don't often do self-help, inspirational, spiritual books - I don't find much use in them to be honest (largely this has to do with I feel like I'm failing if I don't meet the criteria they set forth as "examples"...which is an entirely DIFFERENT issue). This one however I came upon at BEA a couple years back and was caught by the design and title.
To be clear this is a transcribed copy of Chödrön's commencement speech given at her granddaughter's university graduation. As such, while everything ties into the overall theme, this isn't meant to be the end all of her thoughts on failure or how to handle it. It was meant to be an inspiring speech to a class of graduates. The book is about half filled with art work (swirls like you see on the cover in various patterns) and words, though many pages are simply a couple sentences or a paragraph. There's a few that are longer, but not many.
I read this in about twenty minutes, though I've gone back and re-read sections that resonated with me.
I can honestly say this book had me thinking about how I view my "failures", both in how I react to those failures and how I carry the baggage forward. I've spent most of my life being told I'm a disappointment in some manner to someone - my mom, my teachers, my friends, my classmates, my bosses, my siblings, my significant others. From a young age I tended to internalize that and start to believe I was failing at being a daughter or friend or sister or student. I'd go through these periods where it would feel so overwhelming so I'd try to do better, but ultimately feel like I "failed" because it wasn't enough for the person I was trying to impress.
I'd often go so overboard I'd get sick, feeling extra guilty because now I was a burden as well as a failure.
It carried on into my adult life and its something I daily struggle with trying to master. There is no easy way to tell someone who feels these things "You are better then that", but Chödrön tries to show a way that can turn those perceived failings around.
She relates a well known Buddhist tale of an old man and his wife. They have quite a few every day hardships (their horse runs away, their son breaks his leg) and everyone despairs that this is the end, how can they go on except for the old man. He simply says "maybe yes, maybe no". As the story goes each "failure" led to something good happening - their horse ran away, but he came back with a mare so now they had two horses. Their son broke his leg, but a day after soldiers came to take all the able-bodied men off to war.
What seems like a failure, like a disaster you can't overcome one day, can be a blessing in disguise. Sometimes in big ways, sometimes in small ways. Looking back at my "failures", maybe I don't see the "blessing in disguise" for them, but some I can.
I got a job as a paralegal for a New York lawfirm - I was working in the big city, I was on my way to financial independence, I was truly making strides towards being an adult. But the commuting and the hours weighed heavily on me - my health was deteriorating, I didn't see my friends very often or if I did was so exhausted I couldn't enjoy my time with them, I was drinking far heavier than I should have been to ease the stress of it, I wasn't sleeping and I was barely eating. I eventually collapsed from the strain of it five months in.
I had to leave the job (with no back up in sight), I had to move out of the apartment I loved sharing with my friend (to live back at my dad's), I didn't have any savings so I couldn't even buy myself gas for my car. I felt like a complete failure. I had made such big plans for that job - and I enjoyed it, despite the stress - and here I was. Unemployed, living at home in less then half a year. I wallowed in self-pity for a month and half before I half-heartedly started putting my resume back out there, more or less certain I'd wind up either in retail or in a job that would pay me minimum wage and be a stop gap measure at best.
I got called in for interviews, but I didn't let myself get my hopes up. I did my best to ignore the comments from well meaning people that just drove home the fact I was useless. Until the day I got an interview request from a local office I barely remembered applying for. I met with office manager and it felt like a good interview. I was cautiously hopeful because I felt like I was compatible.
Now a year later I'm in a job that grants me part time hours, with good health insurance, very good pay and an office environment I'm appreciated and supported in. I'm moving out with a new friend, my commute is minimal and there's so much opportunity for me here. I never would have gotten this job if I hadn't "failed" at the paralegal job. If I had forced myself to stick with it, to make it so I don't "Fail", who knows how it would have turned out.
And that's what Chödrön tries to get across in her speech. She wants the graduates she was speaking to, to understand that failure is a part of life, but it doesn't have to be the end of that life. We teach and encourage people to "win" to "succeed" and prepare them for that eventuality, but we don't show people how to accept failure and move forward with it.
In the end this book was just what I needed. I recommend this to anyone who wants to just read something quick and contemplative. ...more