Tag Archives: #failure

Empty Your Cup

Let’s start with a story this time

Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.

Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full and then kept on pouring. The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!”

“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

This zen parable does not need any explanation. We are all guilty of it; well, most of us are. It is good to have opinions or ideas as they help us move. The views and the speculations give us the confidence to move forward. It is when they become ‘THE’ opinion that it prevents us from learning.

For example, let’s say I am trying on a new recipe which requires me to steam the potatoes. I do exactly as the recipe says and the dish turns out to be perfect. I make it when my friends come over; they compliment the meal. I have a strong opinion about how to best use potatoes in a dish. Now, my friend comes across, and she says it would be quicker to boil the potatoes than steam them. If I were open to learning, I would at least give it a try. There could be two outcomes – a) The potatoes are done faster, and the dish tastes the same or even better b) The potatoes are done quicker, but the recipe turns out to not so good.

If you are afraid of failure, the chances are you will not try a new technique. Being open to learning means that you have to embrace failure. And to do that, we have to make space for either teaching or failure. And as per the parable if we are full of ourselves, then we have no space. We will be stuck with something that worked for us without moving onto a better version.

There is no denying the fact that it is hard to accept that what worked so well for you in the past is no longer working for you; in fact, it might even be deemed harmful. Our attachment to our way of working is so powerful, and it is this attachment that causes us grief when we try to break it off.

The best way to handle this is to first, respect and honour what worked for you so long – the opinions you held were working. Second, be open to failure and learning – this is hard, the more you do it, the easier it gets. Third, do not beat yourself about it – there is nothing in this life that is worth beating yourself up about; you are just making it difficult for you to learn in the future. Easier said than done, I know.

Practice is the best teacher. Like everything else, it is all about building the muscle. To build the muscle, you have to exercise it as much as possible. You can start by failing in small matter like rolling your tongue, riding a bike without holding the handles, learn a new hobby etc.

What will you learn/fail to make space for new opinions?

Constant Gentle Pressure

Check out this article first at this link

The idea that it is life’s job to keep moving the salt shaker off the center of the table and my job to keep putting it back at the center – is so to the point.

I knew about this article in 2010 when Prof.Rao from CPM institute narrated this to us in London Business School. Recently, I remembered this article while preparing for the Wild Tiger Tees (WTT) team meeting. We have been up and running since August last year (I know it has not been that long), and I have tried to implement a lot of things (maybe a bit prematurely), and most of them have failed. Yes, I admit it. For a project manager and a driver like me, I had a tough time grappling with the inability to get things done. A few tries later (Quite a few tries) then I came to few realizations

  • We are doing this on a volunteer basis and mission is to support the youth.
  • There is entirely no point in beating myself over things in WTT because there is nothing at stake – we are making a difference.
  • Just because things do not work does not mean you stop trying.

The third point is why my mind dug up this article from the archives and brought it to the forefront of my mind chatter. Once I made peace with the situation, it became a lot easier. Now, I was open to trying different ways to make it work – it was like a game or a puzzle. I was trying to pick and see which piece would fit the best and then move on the next bit so that we can see the entire picture.

Lots of lessons in this one – Failure was a must for me to move on to the next step. The next step was the discovering that there is no need to treat every situation like a nail just because I have a hammer. Once I let go of the attachment to the outcomes I automatically starting exploring different ideas – creativity arose. And from there pure joy and well-being.

Life is pretty much the same way. Sometimes you have to keep chugging along even if the results are not there, but you know that it is the right track. The way our society shapes us we never fail enough. It is just not a done thing – however many books you may read, however many studies are out there which tell us that it is ok to fail. I take failure personally. Maybe it is time to rejoice the failures because then we can be unfettered in our next moves. Sometimes it might be best to fail and get the pressure out of the way so that you are free to experiment.

Yoda was right when he said – do or do not; there is no trying. If something fails then do something else – any beating yourself up, wasting time on what-ifs is not worth it.

What will you keep doing now?

Fear of Failure

1#. An Adult is trying to learn gymnastics and during the back flip practice which she was able to do so well last class – she falls down.

2#. An adult is trying to learn swimming and is having trouble blowing bubbles into water. So she does the bare minimum she can and then leaves the class and does not think about it until next class.

3#. A little baby is trying to walk and she falls umpteen times before she gets the hang of it.

What do you think is the difference between the above three examples or before we get there what’s the one thing that’s common across them? It’s really simple – they are all trying to learn something new.

Now, let’s explore the differences – primarily in mind chatter
1. Gymnastics: Oh, My god! I did this last week and now I suck at it. I can never get this done. Why did I even think that I could do this? I should just quit.
2. Swimming: I am the only adult in the pool. Look at all the other kids – they can swim better than me. My instructor probably thinks I am a fool for even trying. I just want the class to be over so that I can stop thinking about what a failure I am.
3. Baby: Blah! Blah! Blah! ..makes gurgling noises. Basically no mind chatter.

Imagine if the baby also thought like the 1#, 2#. I can never walk.I keep stumbling so many times. All I want is to just go to my toy and I cannot even do that.

Can you imagine any baby ever walking with that kind of mind chatter. Something happens as we grow up. Essentially there is no difference between the three example before – we are learning something new and we will fall, be scared of it but instead of trying to do more of it and be upbeat about it we just berate ourselves.

If we think about logically, if we are trying something new then the best thing to do is to do it as much as you can and fail fast and fail as often as we can.

But there is a fear of failure which is a strong mental model in our society. You cannot fail a class – what will others say? You cannot make a mistake at work – it will count against your performance. This subconsciously makes it way in our heads as we grow up and we imbibe this fear of failure and apply it to ourselves like a freebie.

What does this mean for us then? Well, to begin with do one thing a day that scares you. And once you know what scares you just go for it and do it as often as you can. And tell your mind chatter – it’s ok.

“You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don’t try to forget the mistakes, but you don’t dwell on it. You don’t let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space.” Johnny Cash

And Celebrate and be proud of yourself when the following happens.