On Becoming the Perfect Failure

Everywhere I look someone is trying to tell me how to be a successful parent, business person, spouse, money-maker and on and on.  They all want to jump start me and get me to the top in a hurry.  They are all full of it.  In truth, the only way to succeed is to fail—over and over again.  To fail with elegance and style takes great courage and spirit.  I know—I have successfully failed in all areas of my life—as a parent, wife, and business woman.  By failing so well, so often, and so willingly I have learned some amazing things.

Failing as a parent or spouse is particularly enriching.  In my first marriage I tried for twelve years to fail.  Initially, I decided that since I was married to a South Dakota farm boy, probably the quickest way to fail was to become a liberated woman.  Unfortunately, my husband actually failed his way into cooking, and laundry and once even tried to fail at making whole wheat bread from scratch.  It wasn’t very successful—the bread was delicious.  Next I told him to grow spiritually and emotionally or I wouldn’t be married to him anymore.  I really thought that would do it, but this time he failed his way into therapy, treatment, a 12-step program, massage and self-helping along until I had to start changing too.

At last we both grew to such new limits that we no longer had any common ground at all.  Aha, I thought, the end is near.  It was—until he introduced me to his friend Milt. I later married Milt and am having a whole new run at failing in relationships. This one is going to be tricky—we are just too compatible.

A couple of years ago Milt and I tried to fail at building a straw bale house.  We really tried–but it is lovely.

Children are natural failures.  I always encouraged my kids to try things they are almost certain to fail at.  And I started them out impossibly young.  Unfortunately, they would often blow it and master the new task.  It got harder and harder to teach them how to fail properly.  Mastery was so boring that they would run off immediately to find something new to fail at.  Now they are all parents or becoming parents so there should be lots of room for failure there.  I know from experience.

Failing is not just something that happens to us. It is an ART.  Here are several key factors for creating the perfect failure…

  1. Risk until you drop.  Risk your reputation, your money, your time, and risk the respect of your loved ones.  A truly fine failure eventually convinces the world of their own craziness.
  2. Pick an idea that you have strong passionate feelings about.  (You cannot fail at something that means nothing to you.)
  3. Follow your inner urge and extend your vision so far out that eventually even circling Saturn in a spacecraft counts as a failure.  Easy goals are tough to fail at because they are, well, just too easy.
  4. Take personal inventory every day.  We need at least ten healthy failures a day.  Write on your bathroom mirror, “Did I fail enough today?”

Perhaps the best way to get started at failing successfully is to watch your children.  The younger they are, the better they are at failing.  Model the way they ask dumb questions, are willing to try anything once, go after what they desire and, most of all, model their flexibility.  You know the old adage, the one with the most flexibility wins!

Make failing an adventure.  Call people up and see how ignorant you can be.  Ask yourself, “How many questions can I ask before this person recognizes what a brilliant failure I am?”  Or pick a new strategy and try to fail at it.

In reality, I want to be the best parent, spouse, writer, whatever that I can be and the only way is to fail over and over again.  Besides, what is the alternative?  To just follow the rules, stay safe, play the sure bet, do only what you know and do it over and over and over and over again?  Is that success?

Or failure?  I really can’t be sure.

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On Becoming the Perfect Failure — 1 Comment

  1. Well Jamie,

    I guess I am getting so good at failing at this public speaking thing. That I am finally getting booked by a different group in Mankato.

    I just got back and now I will be speaking down there again on the 29th of April. It is invitation only and I was told there will be around 150 people or more there.

    It has been quite busy lately and I see Milt will be speaking at another function I am signed up to attend. This is really awesome. You guys are the best and I am so very glad you keep failing at being so compatible. We should all try that sometimes.

    A friend always,


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