Thursday, July 18, 2013

Failure As A Spiritual Tool

When you see or hear the word "failure," what comes to mind?

If you are like most, you think of times when you have failed in life, and then you cringe. The idea of failure conjures all kinds of negative images and feelings.
That is a human reaction. The ego strikes again!

But failure from a spiritual perspective is not failure. 

It's a starting point.

Too many times, we allow our failures to define us. I can remember in my own life having the need to earn love and acceptance. If I didn't get high grades in school, I wasn't smart enough. If I didn't work long hours, I wasn't going to get that promotion. I was a slave to the ego and to a twisted worldview of success.  Within this worldview, my value as a person was extrinsic; I tied my self-worth to my achievements, and I feared failure. As a result, I operated under the false notion that success made me a good, valuable person, while failure made me a bad, unworthy one. I lived my life from the outside in, and I suffered.

But then I learned that I am not my outcomes.  I am more than any outcome.  Much, much more.

I took the advice of Uncle Socrates when he said,  "The unexamined life is not worth living." I started examining my life, and I challenged the premise of the world's view of success and failure.  In what way did failure make me a bad person? Why would success make me a good or better person? And what's the link between my ability to perform a specific task or to achieve a certain goal and my worth as a person? 


I realized the absurdity of such a premise. I had been engaging in self-sabotage! My value and worth as a person had absolutely nothing to do with my succeeding or failing at a particular task. I suddenly (and finally) felt free.  My worthiness is an intrinsic part of my existence. My value lies in the fact that I am a unique expression of the Divine; my value is not dependent on whether I succeed or fail at something.

Failure, according to a spiritual perspective, really doesn't exist. Neither does success. These do, however, exist in a very real way for those who choose to define themselves through their successes and failures, but where is the freedom in that?

When we approach failure spiritually, we see it as a launching pad into the Inner Self. We view and use it as a tool to re-examine who we are, what our core assumptions and beliefs are about ourselves and the world, and the strategies and tactics we employ based on those core beliefs.  And in so doing, we expand our awareness and perspective. We learn. We grow. We break through. The stuff of miracles. 

The examined life is worth living when we see it as a journey to the Authentic Self. Will there be setbacks? Of course. We will stumble. We will fall. We will get up, and we will carry on, knowing that we have a Higher Calling than what the world would have us answer.

As always, your comments are welcome. . .


  1. In the course of my businesses and life I've had opportunity to discuss this concept with many people. I've often said things like "the only true failure is if you never try" and "there is not real failure unless you don't get back up, it is just a learning experience."

    As I write this comment, it yet again occurs to me something else I say often and teach others...
    "nothing has a meaning until you give it one."

    I've learned in my life, most great successes had far more "failures" than they did successes but that one or two great successes outweighs all the others.



    P.S. I have a blog post coming up that is very similar to this. ;-)

    1. Kathy, that is so true. Nothing has meaning until you give it meaning. Thanks for your comments, as always. Can't wait to read your blog on this topic!

  2. Very true, Penny...also folks often internalize failure taking it personally when it's an event not a person...yes, it is a starting point to overcome whatever obstacles one has that keep them stuck.

    1. Indeed, Liz. I remember my semantics professor telling us on the first day of the course, "Words in themselves have no meaning, unless you give them meaning." That phrase has stuck with me since then. We can choose to make failure work for us...or against us. Thanks so much for your comments!