Lisa A. Kramer

Author, Speaker, Theater Artist, Creativity Facilitator

The Art of Failing

When you know what it feels like to fail
and have gained the
to rise and rise and rise again.

Jeannette Encinias "Beneath the Sweater And the Skin"

What is failure, if not opportunity? I believe that the art of failing frees you to succeed in new ways. Perhaps ways that feed your spirit so that you truly live a life worth living.

We learn from an early age that failure is something bad, somehow. But I don’t believe that. At least not anymore.

How does one define failure anyway? In a world ruled by money, or views success as a limited resource, then failure means that one is not able to grab your piece of the success pie.

Is that how you think of failure: What would happen if we defined failure in a new way--as a necessary step in the journey of discovery and life? What if we could understand failure as something that does not define us, but is simply an adjective for a moment in time?

Let's explore this together.

Not Quite Failure

Was I a failure when I was on the swim team and only occasionally won a race, my body unwilling to claim its own speed until one of my last meets during my senior year of high school, when we suddenly realized that I kicked ass at backstroke? That was not my failure, but my coach's. If he had looked past my skill at butterfly, or my stamina for long distance, perhaps I would have won races. Instead, I swam, I struggled, I strengthened and I did my best. My team did not see me as a success, but was I really a failure?

Am I a failure because I usually come in second place? Always a nominee, never the winner.  My book, a finalist. My dissertation, an honorary mention. Best teacher, a finalist. My high school social science presentation, an honorary mention.

A life lived in second place.

“It’s an honor just to be nominated,” Those are the words of the losers. But are they really? No. Failure would be not to try. Not to finish writing that book, teaching that course, directing that play. It’s not about the awards and accolades, it’s about the work.

Failing graciously, and continuing on with belief in yourself is an art form that requires practice, confidence, creativity, and a whole lot of hope.

Success Requires Looking Back

When you are in the middle of living life, it is hard to see your own moments of success. We get caught up in seeing where things seem to be going wrong, where life is leading in unexpected directions, where you feel out of control. It seems to be part of human nature to always be striving toward something, rather than appreciating the moment we we are in.

What would happen if we stayed in our moments, finding joy in the simple success of living one more day as our highest selves?

I have always said that I will understand my life only at the moment of death. You know, lying on my death bed, all of a sudden, the answer to all the questions I have asked throughout this journey in this body becomes clear. Perhaps a voice in my head whispers the secrets of the universe.

I open my eyes, and speak to whomever sits at my bedside at that moment. “I understa—”

And my final breath leaves my body, the sentence incomplete.

Failure or success? Perhaps a little bit of both—because at that moment I will have succeeded in my lifetime journey toward understanding. And yet, I will also have moved onto the next part of my journey, rising to unknown challenges and new opportunities to fail and to succeed.

Failure and Success as Metamorphosis

Or perhaps, I already understand. For you see, I have begun to unshed my own skin.

A metamorphosis of my own choosing. I look back at my past and see it through the eyes of my new shape. Now I see it as a kaleidoscope of successes on my own terms.

I am free of the restrictions and confines of success as defined by a world that puts too much power into the concept of winners and losers.

I fly with butterfly wings into a future where the failure simply means, rest and try again. Repaint your own wings with new colors, new dreams, and new possibilities.

Each time I do, the meaning of my life shifts. That death bed exclamation may no longer be "I understand," but instead I will say,:

“I lived, and that was enough.”

So it is, so may it be.