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Give Up Your Fear of Failure and Find Faith in Yourself

27 November 2012

Allison read The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America by David Whyte and was reminded to worry a little less about failure and to believe in herself a little more.

Tags: allison partners favorite, allison read, balance, brene brown, courage, creativity, david whyte, happiness, poetry, self-compassion, ted

David Whyte combines two of my favorite things: poetry and organizational development. I read his poems simply to enjoy their beauty, wisdom and comfort for life’s journey. I reference this book because his observations about people, their habits and their choices are incredibly insightful for individuals and organizations who are interested in being their very best. When I attend his workshops and have the opportunity to talk with him, I always walk away with new ideas and inspiration. These are just some of the reasons The Heart Aroused makes the list of our seven all-time favorite books.

I usually feel pretty confident about things, but recently I’ve been more than a little anxious about messing up in one particularly important area of my life and saying or doing something foolish. I even found myself a bit paralyzed so I knew it was time to reread the final chapter of The Heart Aroused where David writes about how our great fear of failure keeps us from reaching our full potential, bringing our best selves forward and enjoying life’s journey. Ask any designer or innovator and they will tell you that failure is an essential part of the creative process. When we teach our Creativity: The Power of Ideas course, we try to help participants learn how to minimize the perceived risk of sharing a “crazy” idea because sometimes those are the best ideas or those ideas will lead people to the better idea. Intellectually, this makes sense and everyone nods their heads, but in practice we all spend a lot of time trying not to seem stupid to other people.

Generally, I support trying to be competent and attempting to minimize failures, but David makes a pretty powerful argument for how fear of failure and incompetence leads to such measured, cautious behavior that we often shut down the part of us that is most fantastic and likely to be wildly successful. He reminds us that there is failure or darkness in so many parts of nature. The leaves fall off the trees every autumn and come back every spring. The moon goes away and returns every month. He wrote this poem, Faith, about a time in his life when he was struggling and, “Had very little reflected light, just a sliver of a moon to see by.”

     I want to write about faith
          about the way the moon rises
               over cold snow, night after night,

     faithful even as it fades from fullness,
          slowly becoming that last curving and impossible
               sliver of light before the final darkness.

     But I have no faith myself
          I refuse it even the smallest entry.

     Let this then, my small poem,
          like a new moon, slender and barely open,
               be the first prayer that opens me to faith.

We don’t need to be so terribly afraid of our mistakes and our low points. We should learn from those times and then have faith that we’ll figure out what to do next and be okay. David’s work always gives me courage to be more authentic and take important risks. He helps me to know how to overcome shame and achieve vulnerability in the way that Brené Brown challenged us all to live in her now famous TED Talk. I hope he can be a source of insight and comfort for you, too.


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Nov 30, 2012

Thanks! I really needed that! I’ve been getting the same message all month about how it’s o.k. (and necessary) to try things and not to quit after the first failure. This post is a great summary for my “acknowledge the fear and do it anyway” month

Allison Partners
Dec 03, 2012

Toni, I’m so glad it was helpful to you. I wrote it because I needed a reminder myself last month. Here’s to overcoming our fears and being our very best selves!


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