Sunday, June 14, 2009

Failure as a means to succeed? Maybe so, maybe so...

Similar to Charlotte on Sex and the City, I have a secret love for all things self help at the local bookstore and it's a deep, dark secret of mine. I'm not sure why. I can't help it, really. And can you blame me? Who wouldn't look twice at the rows and rows of covers offering you more friends, more money, no stress, great sex, lots of power? Well, I would. Kind of. I tend to slow down near that section, but if its a busy day, I feel a sort of shame at being spotted by my peers as they pass me on their way to lattes, and chai teas.

Like they're thinking, "Oh, wow. She looks normal, but, y'know, she must not be. I mean, she's holding a Wayne Dyer (or insert any other self help guru here) book."

Which is why I love, love, love the magazine Psychology Today. It's like a neat little self-help book packaged and delivered once a month. Full of articles and insights and in a form you can actually carry on the bus with you or have sitting on your passenger seat without shrinking in shame when discovered.

This month's issue has an article on failure called "Resilience: Weathering the Storm." I thought it was a bit of good timing, seeing how not too long ago I wrote about my favorite personal failures here. I'm not sure my failures are significant or relevant enough to push me to some great new plane of existence, but it was fun to read nevertheless. (That said, I keep hoping my terrible sense of direction and ridiculous inflexibility will land me that corner office. Never hurts to think positive, right?)

Here's an excerpt:

"Failure, it says, is at worst a mixed blessing: It hurts, but can pay off in the form of learning and growth and wisdom.

Some psychologists, like the University of Virginia's Jonathan Haidt, go even further, arguing that adversity, setbacks, and even trauma may actually be necessary for people to be happy, successful, and fulfilled. "Post-traumatic growth," it's sometimes called. Its observers are building a solid foundation under the anecdotes about wildly successful people who credit their accomplishments to earlier failures that pushed them to the edge of the abyss.

Last fall, J.K. Rowling described to a Harvard grad class a perfect storm of failure—broken marriage, disapproval from her parents, poverty that bordered on homelessness—that sent her back to her first dream of writing because she had nothing left to lose. "Failure stripped away everything inessential," she said. "It taught me things about myself I could have learned no other way."

Apple founder Steve Jobs describes three apparent setbacks—dropping out of college, being fired from the company he founded, and being diagnosed with cancer—that ultimately proved portals to a better life. Each forced him to step back and gain perspective, to see the long view of his life. "I have failed over and over and over again, and that is why I succeed," said Michael Jordan—as did Oprah, Walt Disney, Henry Ford, Winston Churchill, and Thomas Edison, in slightly different words. Indeed, so oft-repeated is the trope that we lose sight of how strange it is. "

Read the rest of the article here.

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