The Upside of Failure

I've had this experience a few times. Maybe you have, too. 

I go to someone's house for the first time. He's got a few trophies on the mantle; photos of him hobnobbing with J.K. Rowling and Aretha Franklin on the walls; achievement awards on the shelves. 

We sit down for tea or dinner, and I'm feeling all kinds of things: intimidated and impressed, judgmental, jealous, insecure, and more. Surely more. 

But the one thing I'm not feeling is closer to this guy. As many have said, it's not our King-of-the-Hill victories that make us human to each other. It's our common trip-ups, slip-ups, struggles. The kind that make us look up from our lives and say, Yes! Me too. 

I've come into a real gratitude for these trophy-on-the-mantle experiences; they've helped me reassess how I think about failure. It's normal to feel isolated in our failings: I'm the only one who's been rejected by a job like this, the only one who's been criticized by her boss like this, the only one who's been too scared to speak up. 

The truth, though, is we're never the only one. We are one of many, many, many. Which we'll only know if we can risk giving voice to that. 

Few houses are decorated with framed rejection slips, bounced checks, pens we used to write books we didn't finish. But any one of us can share with others those times when we felt the raw vulnerability of floundering, flopping, falling. 

Those listening to us might feel all kinds of things. And I'd be willing to bet one of those things is connection - like they saw their humanity in ours. Which has to be one of the great upsides of failure: it can bring us closer to each other in a way that success never can. 

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