How to Find Wisdom in Failure

In Seeing the Eye Disappears No. 2, oil on paper, 2010


If you’re an aspiring leader (at any age — we’re 47 and 48 as of this writing), you’re going to do stupid stuff from time to time. You’ll make mistakes and you’ll go down seemingly deadend paths for years on end. Really.

Don’t sweat it. That path is going somewhere great. Truly fantastic, never-ending joy is just ahead. If you can metamorphose into who you need to be.

And that’s what being the fool teaches you.

Society says, be smart. School says, mistakes are bad. The gurus say, follow me. But everything they’re teaching you is based on the past. If you want to walk that path, don’t look backwards. And if you don’t want to talk that path, good luck. It’s too late for that, and you know it.

What you must do instead is to discover the reason you are on that path — and then let yourself be the fool. Now after a while, you want to wisen up. You don’t want to make the same mistakes again and again; you don’t want to be stupid. That’s not what I’m saying. You want to be the one who realizes, “You never go further than when you no longer know where you’re going (Goethe).” The key is, you no longer know where you’re going. You’re going somewhere — you have simply gone so far that you can’t quite see exactly where you’ll end up.

You still have your North Star, right? You still have your wits about you? You’re in reasonably good health, I hope?

Maybe not. You could be an addict; you could be a lousy parent. You might have done something really, genuinely terrible. Or you could just be so far from your potential that you hate yourself sometimes. Don’t. Don’t do it. These things are part of your path.

We didn’t write the rules. But we know how to play by them.

Truth is, we all suffer our brains out on this path. We’re suffering, you’re suffering; heck even that lucky person with all that money — the one you wanna be — is suffering.

The question is, are you doing it consciously, even willingly, or are you in denial?

To walk your path means to learn — and let’s face it, sometimes learning sucks. Because life. But when life wants to teach you something, run toward the lesson, not away from it. Some may call you foolish; you might feel foolish. But the only truly foolish action would be to stay comfortable, stay the same, be what others want you to be, and continue to comply. Instead, plunge ahead. You may suffer, yes. But you will be awake when you suffer — and that is how you grow strong.

Remember this. You are already wonderful, amazing, a bright light, and endlessly creative. It’s just a matter of finding that power beneath the mask and layers — all the coping mechanisms you’ve piled on to be somebody or someone.That skull in the painting represents the fool, yes — but also the light pouring in, breaking the chains, calming the storms. and making you fearless and very strong.

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