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The Courage to Fail by Dave LaRue

The greatest things we will do all require moral courage, the belief that despite not being immediately, obviously rewarded, the results of making the right choice—whether it’s the right choice for us or the right choice for our family or business—are worth it.

The rewards of courage are in our lives are always looked back on in a special way. When we make the right investment or hire the right person, we’re glad. The rewards are simple, concrete, straightforward.

But when we have to be courageous, confront fear, and prioritize the right thing over the easy or comfortable thing (or the thing expected of us), those rewards are of a different kind.

Part of the reward in these cases is new knowledge of yourself. When you make a successful decision that required you to choose new potential over complete control of the outcome, you experience what it feels like to be on a life’s journey that is bigger than your circumstances. You learn that life can go somewhere you never would have planned for yourself. And this in turn shows you that the world is bigger than you knew and more things are possible than you'd counted on. The great reward of making decisions that require confronting fear is new and irrevocable understanding that the world is hospitable to you in ways you never imagined. An adult over the age of 50 who believes, “Maybe this world is a place where I can flourish” is a person who has confronted fear.

This is because fear is beyond the limit of our knowledge and outside the limit of our imagination. By definition. If we have the knowledge and imagination to convince ourselves that something is possible, we’re not really afraid of it in the same way we talk about the fear we need to exercise courage against. “Risky but possible,” and “possible but not worth it to me” are not emotionally charged phrases. "That's impossible," or "There's no way I can do that" are.

You would be likely terrified if you were forced to climb Mt. Everest next week. It’s far away in a country you’ve likely never traveled in, it’s extremely cold, the air is thin, the weather is unpredictable and bad, and, on top of that, well, you have to climb a mountain.

When people do the research and learn how the risks of climbing Mt. Everest are listed and managed, the fear shifts from one of formless danger into that of known and manageable risk.

It’s a bit of a false example because we all can make a statistical analysis and reality check it against things like, say, our experience with and fitness for that climb. But the way that it’s different is the whole point of what we’re talking about.

No one has been to the top of the mountain you’re facing now. The trek of your life is unique to you—though, wonderfully, it may resemble or rhyme with that of others. While the Comma Club and other groups where we share notes on our journeys help a lot in this respect, unlike climbing Everest, there’s no all-inclusive package to help you condition for your life, travel to the foot of the mountain, and make the ascent. And, unlike summiting Everest, our lives aren’t all about exciting ascents. There’s not a single peak to aim for. Sometimes letting go of that belief hits us hard as a profound and disorienting failure.

We always talk about being clear on your core values and being in conversation with your life to ensure you’re living in accord with them. This is because it’s easy to navigate by external points of reference—other people's approval, achievement, money. Core values are something else to measure by. They evolve as you understand what's truly important, meaningful, and nourishing to you.

One of the occupational hazards of being driven toward success is success itself—arriving at where you’ve been headed all along. Sometimes we make a goal before we understand what we truly want and need. Sometimes we outgrow the desire by the time we achieve the goal. Sometimes our goals deliver one kind of reward when what we really need is something else altogether. There is a lot of practical advice to follow about how to earn money, for instance. There’s less about how to wake up when you’re 50, 60, 70, 80 years old and feel like your life has meant something.

Some of the failures I want to help others through most come down to making peace with how failures are how we uncover what we need—by not getting it where we thought we would. Some self-forgiveness is immediately necessary—there's often no other way to find out.

And these failures, when confronted, are the source of the motivation we need to keep going beyond merely meeting our needs for security. When we are open to learning what it is we truly need—beyond what we are used to wanting, seeking, and asking for—we open ourselves up to the most rewarding work of our lives. And it’s work of a totally different nature.

Some things we can find out we need through failure:

  • To collaborate or consult more or differently with others, which may require overcoming issues with trust and sharing accomplishment.

  • To make peace with ourselves and believe we are worthy of others and meant to be here, which may require a square-one exploration of who we think we are.

  • To connect with people more fully and less transactionally, which may require a new approach to relationships and a deep-dive into why we connect how we do.

  • A connection to the big picture as a real and outside thing we’re a part of—the world or the universe, depending on how we see things—and a sense of how we fit into it, which may mean considering the spiritual in new ways that challenge your upbringing.

  • To generate, create, make, and give—and to do so in ways that mean something to us, which may require spending time in ways we had never prioritized.

  • To change our beliefs and opinions, which requires us to walk back long-standing convictions that we’ve built our personality and even friendships around.

We will always regret having planned for one thing only to need another. We will always wish that we had ease instead of difficulty. We will always want to avoid having to tell people we’ve changed. But so many of the greatest successes in my life have come from failures. I understand now that failures are where we encounter the truth of what we really want and need. So, I’m not afraid of failure. I manage risks and make decisions as wisely as possible, but the prospect of failure doesn’t have the power it did before I’d survived some failures and learned how valuable they are.
It’s my wish for you that you will learn to be courageous enough to work with failure rather than fear it so you can have the life you really want. I’d love to talk about what it’s meant for me and hear what it’s meant to you.




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