Redefining Failure: Unleash The Power Of Making Mistakes
How many times have you heard a friend or yourself ask: “What if I make a mistake?” Why do so many of us worry about getting it ‘right’ whether we are writing an article or a book, dancing a dance or moving forward with a business venture that we have been dreaming about since we were eleven?
Of course, none of us wants to flush our hard-earned or borrowed money down the toilet. And nobody wants to open their heart only to get it stomped on. But what are the alternatives of not trying? Would any true love affair be possible with guarded emotions? Would any crazy idea like selling single cups of coffee balloon into the bonanza of business that it’s become? Or come on, did we really ever believe a man could be put on the moon? Could we consider that perhaps ‘failure” really means education? We stuck our necks out there and made mistakes. Maybe we thought we failed. But most likely, we learned something? We gained experience. We grew. How else would anything creative, innovative or daring come to life?
Learning from the first flight
As we live in a lightening fast-paced technical and digital age, it’s hard to imagine the days before being able to travel near and far via a hefty steel tube, the airplane. This idea of flying from the Wright Brothers was thought to be sheer lunacy back in the late 1800s.
Both Wilbur and Orville Wright studied the soaring flight capabilities of birds and observed how they operated their wings. The Wrights’ first aircraft, really a large kite, was a bamboo, paper concoction and had two wings with a puzzle of wires holding it together. Sounds a little dodgy already right? The brothers controlled it with a system of chords from the ground and surprise, it crashed. The Wrights considered this a success and proceeded to build the next phase of their idea- a full-sized glider with an 18-foot wingspan that although would fly like a kite would also carry a man. The brothers added a small motor to the glider and after multiple attempts, were successful in keeping the make-shift plane in the air all of 59 seconds. I guess you can say, we’ve come a long way baby.
Those big jet airliners we rely on daily to fly across the vastness of the world did not just occur overnight and involved years of setbacks including crashes, never mind the pooh-pooh of the people. Even the US Government had zero interest and the public reaction to the Wright Brother’s first flight was underwhelming, to say the least. Nevertheless, they persevered and pushed forward despite the people’s perception of failure.
Lessons rather than failures
Brene Brown quotes failure as: “Failure is an imperfect word” because, if you take the time and have the patience to learn from your failures, then they aren’t failures any longer—they’re lessons. Often in yoga classes that I teach, I will hear students comment: “I know I’m doing it wrong,” “Why can’t I get my upward-facing dog right,” “I am too afraid to try a handstand.” “There’s no way I will ever be able to balance on one arm let alone two like that.”
Where and when did we lose our childlike wonder? If we were five, we would be hopping, bopping and most likely flailing and falling with laughter attempting handstands. We would say “Hey Mom, look at me!” and wanna share it at school during ‘show-n-tell.’ And hey, while there’s nothing wrong about not being able to do a handstand, it’s more about what’s stopping us from trying.
It seems that no matter how many times I repeat that it’s not about the depth of a pose externally, but more about the internal quality in a shape and how we respond to it, there are always many who want to get it right. It is admirable to want to grow and improve, but may we remember that this is a practice. Not perfect. There is no getting it ‘right’ because there is no end and things are constantly in a state of change. It is an offering of continually learning to evolve in the shape we are in and where we are in that moment. As much as we would like to be able to, we will never be able to control the external challenges of everyday life. Never. Nunca. But we can catch our habitual cycles of these responses on and off the mat. Are we making it more harmonious or harder?
It. Is. A. Practice. Not. Perfect.
Allow yourself to make a mistake
“Mistakes are the portals of discovery.” – James Joyce
Yes, yes, yes, an experienced instructor, safety and alignment cues are important, but if we are not willing to put a toe in the water, we cannot learn to swim. The yoga mat can be a magical place to meet our deep self and teaches us how to live in the skin we are in. This can happen only when we allow ourselves to practice. To not know and make mistakes. Yup, sure, there are some that can pop into a split or a fore-arm handstand no sweat. Then there’s the rest of us humans that are gonna have to employ a lifetime of patience to work with our boundaries. Not against.
Boundaries are a strong and necessary thing to hold for ourselves. Healthy boundaries help maintain a positive self-concept affirming our own needs. The key is to know when we are creating the kind of limitations that keep us stuck out of fear and an “I will never get that, try that” attitude. One of my teachers offered the class a powerful thought to consider: “What would it be like if a tiny dilemma was a light? And what would it be like if an insurmountable problem was the sun?” What if! And when do we start to twist and turn that tiny dilemma into our perceived insurmountable problem? Yeah, it’s true friends, we might not wanna acknowledge it, but we just might be the culprit in much of our drama. Lots of things out there suck and making mistakes asks us to be vulnerable, which requires courage and diving into the deep end.
Get out of your comfort zone
“If you feel safe in the area you’re working in, you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the water than you feel you’re capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth. And when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.” David Bowie
Stepping out into the unknown and the unfamiliar is where transformation lives whether it be with a relationship, business and yes, practicing yoga. I think this has been the hardest part of the yogic practice for me. The not knowing. The more I continue to study, which is a lot and never seems like enough, the more I feel I do not know. And believe me, as a type-A human, this is uneasy territory. What I have come to accept with a lot of coaxing from my therapist Robert, is that the questions are more important than the answers.
For years, my forward folds have been a nightmare and beyond painful. A twenty-five-year career in the film business as a wardrobe stylist literally left me lopsided. Only recently, have I recognized that my right side ribs lean more towards the back then the left. My right hip hitches up higher than the left hip and my right shoulder tilts further back than my left. This makes sense as my right side is the dominate one and if you can imagine years of favoring heavy bags the size of Volkswagens attached to my right arm, this would show the habits that were formed in my body. A few weeks ago, my teacher Genny put a wedge-like a shim that you would use for a rickety restaurant table under my ribs in a reclined posture. Eureka! Yes! Oh, what a relief it was and is to understand being level.
As someone with chronic back issues and who was told my only option was surgery, I can share with you that although it has not been an easy ride, It has been my best teacher. It is extremely humbling to struggle with forward-folds for anyone especially a yoga teacher. But if we are willing to let go of what we think we know, try things we do not understand, there can be profound discoveries that are both healing physically as well as emotionally. I am incredibly grateful to the instructors that got me to step outside the box and to literally practice with one. Special bow to Nikki C.
“A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.” Albert Einstein
If we want to learn to live in the skin we are in, we need to learn how to allow mistakes. They are the best education we can get and our experience is our most valuable knowledge. The following mindful tips are some things that I practice daily and hope they may be of benefit:
- If the pose does not feel right, it’s probably not. The body is sending messages on how to expand in the shape. Try to listen for the internal details about where to make space. If the lower lumbar feels crunchy in Upward-facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana), perhaps the legs are not working enough. Try putting a block on the narrow width between the thighs. Squeeze from the outer hips in while lengthening through the legs and driving through the big toe mounds of the feet. Another option is to try the block on the middle level under the pelvis for added support. Once in Upward Facing Dog-keep the toes tucked, walk the feet in to find more power and length through the legs. Avoid pressing the back of the belly and back ribs forward. Think about lifting from the backside up to create space for the organs.
- There should never be pain in a pose period. Discomfort is different from pain and only you yourself knows the difference. Honor what you are feeling and take care of yourself. Give yourself permission to take child’s pose when you need it. Truly, sometimes less is often more.
- Practice with knowledgeable teachers who offer modifications and learn how to apply them to your practice. It is much better to do a pose properly and in a way that works for your body than to try and fit yourself into what you think the pose should look like. Forget about the insta-photo and feel the pose from the inside out.
- Are both sides of the body equally lifting? Are the feet active and weighted evenly? Can you notice anywhere that you feel collapsed, clinched or rigid? Where is it possible to create more extension without becoming stiff?
- Ask questions! Have a teacher demo something that isn’t making sense. The body is an elaborate machine and takes a lifetime to master. Sometimes seeing someone else in a pose is more helpful than trying to hear all the pieces of the puzzle. There is always something new to discover!
- Even if you have done a thousand Warrior IIs, (Virabhadrasana II) practice it and every pose like it’s the first time.
- What can you discover that’s steadier, calmer and expansive.
- Injuries are great teachers if we allow them to be. Rest and slowing down is an important part of the practice. Be willing to show up on the mat and not ‘do’. Some of my most important lessons came when I was not able to bend forward or side to side. Let yourself un-know and undo to create shifts of understanding.
- Listen to discomfort and watch how you respond. Honestly, friends, how we react in a yoga pose gives pretty good insight into how we react to anything, everything. Are we the type that quit at the first sign of a challenge? Or the kind that’s gonna drive the square peg through the round hole no matter what? Neither is better. Finding a balance between the two and catching our habitual reactions is when we will create transformations on and off the mat.
Remember in the end that most of our favorite memories and experiences include all the elements of what we label as ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Our funniest stories are the ones that usually involved some sort of calamity and the times that left the most indelible marks are the ones where we made mistakes.
“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” Michael Jordan
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