I listened to Cornell West address the anger and turmoil in our country and he quoted the Irish author Samuel Beckett with this powerful message. Try again. Fail again. Fail better. I’ve been thinking about those words every since, because like many of us, my heart has broken at the cruelty and hatred that exists in our world in what seems like a never ending cycle of racism, oppression, injustice and human suffering.
I believe that failure is good for the soul and having failed many times in my life I speak from personal experience! It can be very painful the first few times and difficult to face the judgment of others, but over time I discovered great power in every one of my failures. They created a deep reservoir of wisdom, compassion and determination inside of me that today I rely upon to help others. Looking back, I can see things in a different light, and regard those so-called failures as necessary lessons and steppingstones that guided me to become the person I wanted to be.
I think the key to failure is conceptualizing it as a temporary experience that is teaching us something that our heart and soul are longing to know. Failure can empower us to think and behave differently and I think that is what Beckett was trying to say. Many of our efforts to address racism, economic inequality, poverty and injustice have failed, so we tried again, but as we watch what is happening in our society today, it is easy to feel hopeless about the heartbreak and suffering these failed attempts have caused.
So how do we fail better? First, we have to be willing to keep going no matter what, find the wisdom that is encoded in each failure, and then use it to refine our next effort to get a better result. But there’s another expression about failure and success that I think trips us up. You’ve probably had someone say to you at least once in your life If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. I think this is terrible advice!
As s a social worker I’ve experienced programs and initiatives that didn’t work successfully the first time (often due to lack of funding and appropriate resources) and instead of reevaluating and changing course in a way that could better serve the needs of clients, the same programs were launched over and over again, somehow expecting different results.
We can’t try, try again doing the same things that didn’t work the first time. We have to try something different to address the issues of race, poverty, discrimination and injustice and I believe this starts with exploring the world inside of us. It means asking where and how have we been blind, insensitive and ignored the wellbeing and needs of others? Why (and where) have we felt threatened by others who are different from us and needed to make them less than us, in order to feel better about who we are? These are difficult questions to ask and as a therapist I’ve found that the answers are usually connected to personal experiences we had in our past that we haven’t been willing to explore.
But if we are blind to unresolved pain in the world inside of us, we will be blind to pain of other in the world outside of us, so I believe our task is doing the work of our soul. This is what empowers us to keep going and gives us the courage and fortitude to be wiling to fail, try again and fail better, until eventually, we succeed.
If you are feeling alone struggling to heal any pain inside of you, I’d love to help you with this, so you can click on my Services page if you want to know more about online counseling with me.
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I’ve always loved the word Delight! To me it means “of the light” and with all the darkness and fear in the world today, I wanted to create a place where we can gather together, restore our connection to the light and help one another to Delight The World with love, kindness, gentleness, beauty, compassion and grace. —Amy Rose, LCSW