You Cannot Fail In Your Personal Growth (But You Can Be Defeated By Constantly Greater Things)

failureAn interesting post on failure in business at the Instigator blog got me thinking about the subject of failure in relation to personal growth.

We often hear of the importance of failure in business. We’re told that if we don’t have some failures in our business we’re probably not stretching or trying enough new things. And when we do fail, we’re quickly reminded of all the great successes that were preceded by equally impressive failures.

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.

Thomas Edison

Likewise, in sports, failure is recognized as an acceptable, if not enjoyable part of the terrain. The New England Patriots aside, going undefeated is a goal that draws teams towards greatness even while every team-member recognizes the nearly impossible nature of the goal.

The best business leaders and coaches know that the big winners will be those who are willing to innovate, to try new things. Some will work. Some will fail. But as long as they learn from the failures, they know they will continue to move forward and grow.

Why then, is it so much more difficult to accept failure in the personal growth arena?

How many times have you heard (or spoken) something along the lines of:

Why can’t I stop procrastinating?
I’m so frustrated that I can’t lose these last 10 pounds.
Why does – insert person’s name here – still trigger me after so many years?
I wish I could be more consistent with my exercise.
Why can’t I stick to a budget?

Each of these statements implicitly denies the powerful opportunities to learn from these situations. If we could be more accepting of our personal growth failures life would flow so much more gracefully.

Instant gratification has no place in personal growth work. Too often we want the growth process to be quick, easy and fun. It certainly can be all of those things. But when the process is more difficult and the personal growth road gets a bit bumpy it’s very easy to think that we have failed.

In truth, we can’t fail at our personal growth. Personal growth is about experience, not winning.

The only way to fail at personal growth is to stop trying! If we shut ourselves down to the experiences that cause us to grow, then we have failed.

Failure is not falling down but refusing to get up.

Chinese Proverb

Even if it takes a lifetime to transform one habit, as long as we are actively engaged in the process of personal growth we are being successful!Ranier Maria Rilke wrote a poem about Jacob wrestling the Angel. In our personal growth the Angel we wrestle could be the procrastination, the last 10-pounds, the exercise.

Even if we do not “win” in this struggle, the decisive defeat keeps us growing.

The Man Watching

I can tell by the way the trees beat, after
so many dull days, on my worried windowpanes
that a storm is coming,
and I hear the far-off fields say things
I can’t bear without a friend,
I can’t love without a sister.

The storm, the shifter of shapes, drives on
across the woods and across time,
and the world looks as if it had no age:
the landscape, like a line in the psalm book,
is seriousness and weight and eternity.

What we choose to fight is so tiny!
What fights with us is so great!
If only we would let ourselves be dominated
as things do by some immense storm,
we would become strong too, and not need names.

When we win it’s with small things,
and the triumph itself makes us small.
What is extraordinary and eternal
does not want to be bent by us.
I mean the Angel who appeared
to the wrestlers of the Old Testament:
when the wrestlers’ sinews
grew long like metal strings,
he felt them under his fingers
like chords of deep music.

Whoever was beaten by this Angel
(who often simply declined the fight)
went away proud and strengthened
and great from that harsh hand,
that kneaded him as if to change his shape.
Winning does not tempt that man.
This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively
by constantly greater beings.

Rainer Maria Rilke
Translated by Robert Bly

So the next time you fail, consider the possibility that you were wrestling with an Angel!

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    11 Responses to “You Cannot Fail In Your Personal Growth (But You Can Be Defeated By Constantly Greater Things)”

    1. Jennifer Mannion on December 5th, 2007 2:14 pm

      Hi! What a GREAT Post! Rilke is one of my favorite poets. I have had to tell myself the same thing Edison said a lot these last few years as I try to get my invention manufactured. It would have been so easy so many times to give up but each time I tried/try to see it as a challenge to find the next path…. Wise words — thank you for another wonderful article. Gratefully, Jenny

    2. poetryman69 on December 5th, 2007 6:20 pm

      Consecrating a Holy vessel for my eternal consciousness.
      A renewed body and a refreshed mind.

      Be thankful. Blessings unto you and yours.

      Of Angel hugs and of love and laughter

      and of happily ever after.

      Of kind words and healing balms.

      Of buzzing bees in the tall, green grasses.

    3. Raymond on December 6th, 2007 1:53 am

      I love the Chinese proverb. How true is that. It makes so much sense.

    4. Edward Mills on December 6th, 2007 9:50 am

      Jennifer. I’m glad you haven’t given up. I think Edison can be an inspiration to all of us, whether we’re inventing something or not. Keep going. Your “filament” is out there waiting!

      Raymond. Yes, that one hit me too. I had never quite thought of it in that way before. It was actually the latest Rocky movie that first got me thinking about this.

    5. Albert | UrbanMonk.Net on December 6th, 2007 1:11 pm

      That line: “Why does this person trigger me after so many years” is awesome. People who hit you where it hurts are a blessing – they show you where your open wounds are, and exactly what you need to heal.

      Thanks for the great post.
      Modern personal development, entwined with ancient spirituality.

    6. Lyman from Creating a Better Life on December 6th, 2007 9:54 pm

      Outstanding article, Ed… really outstanding…

      I believe that every time we try and fail, but get back up and try again, growth *has* happened… some part of us has been nudged in the direction of where we are going.

    7. Edward Mills on December 7th, 2007 5:55 pm

      PoetryMan. Thank you for the beautiful addition to this post!

    8. Edward Mills on December 7th, 2007 5:57 pm

      Albert. I’m sure most of us have experienced that. I just had the opportunity to ask that very question while I was back east visiting my parents! “Why do these people continue to trigger me?” And you’re so right: Those triggers point out the wounds in need of healing!

    9. Edward Mills on December 7th, 2007 5:59 pm

      Lyman. Thank you! You’re so right. And sometimes it’s hard to see and feel that growth when you’re picking yourself up “again!” But if we remember that we’re growing, the picking ourselves up part gets a bit easier.

    10. Pointers To Resources For Your Better Life #2 — Creating a Better Life on December 9th, 2007 5:52 am

      […] you might as well do it! Edward Mills of Evolving Times explains why in his outstanding article You Cannot Fail In Your Personal Growth (But You Can Be Defeated By Constantly Greater Things). Why do we accept failure as a part of the learning process in everything except our personal […]

    11. Jean Browman--Cheerful Monk on December 9th, 2007 4:24 pm

      Your post reminds me of the Zen master Dogen. When asked how he reached enlightenment, he said, “It was just one mistake after another.”


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