Failing Towards ... Success!

Bunker Hill Monument

Bunker Hill Monument

Dear Yoga Friends, 

This month, my partner Ed and I got to visit Boston for a weekend. We both enjoyed walking The Freedom Trail, visiting important historic sites commemorating the American Revolution. At top is the Bunker Hill Monument. Though the Colonists lost this battle with the British, ultimately they won the Revolutionary War and their freedom from oppression. Thus, failure ultimately led to success.

The classic yoga text, The Bhagavad Gita, reminds us that we "have control over our actions, but not over their fruits." It suggests that we "live not for the fruits of action, nor attach ourselves to inaction." It advises, "perform actions having abandoned attachment and remain balanced in success and failure."

Had the colonists just given up after losing this battle, we might not be here today, enjoying the many freedoms we as Americans have, which we are reminded of annually on commemorative days such as Memorial Day.

The bottom line is, we can't really cross the finish line and experience victory unless we endure -- indeed, embrace! -- a lot of failure.

For any great venture to ultimately succeed, the founders have to be willing to embrace the discomfort of failure over and over again. For us who practice yoga and meditation in hopes of becoming further Enlightened, we have to know from the get-go that we will fail often.

According to this blog by Wharton Professor, Adam Grant, famous entrepreneurs Elon Musk (Tesla Founder), Larry Page (Google Founder), and Jack Dorsey (Twitter co-founder), "all felt the same fear of failure that the rest of us do. They just responded to it differently [than most people]. Yes, they are afraid of failing but they're even more afraid of failing to try."

Lao Tzu, to whom the classic Chinese text the Tao Te Ching is attributed, writes in Chapter 64, "People usually fail when they are on the verge of success. So give as much care to the end as to the beginning, then there will be no failure." The lesson: you might be just one failure away from success. Another translation of these lines states, "Therefore the Master takes actions by letting things take their course. He remains as calm at the end as at the beginning." The practice: remain calm during failure.

In yoga asana practice, we try over and over again to go deeper into postures. Sometimes we try too hard; other times we don't try hard enough. That's ok, at least we are trying! The trick is to breathe deeply and stay calm through it all.

I take all these pieces of wisdom to heart, as they have guided me in my efforts to engage in things that move my heart. Why did I move to NYC in the mid-80s to become an actor, dancer, singer when the odds were stacked against me? Because I couldn't risk not trying. Why have I spent countless hours and given much effort over these last 5 years to furthering the mission of Keoni Movement Arts, the nonprofit I started? Adam Grant said of the entrepreneurs he interviewed that "they weren't afraid of failing, but of failing to matter. And that meant they had to make an effort, to take a shot at bringing their new ideas into the world." I have felt the same way.

During my earlier career as an actor, dancer, singer and more recently as the leader of a movement arts program, I have made many mistakes and failed on numerous occasions. But I am heartened by something I heard John Hennessy, the out-going President of Stanford University, say at a recent alumni event. By all accounts he has has transformed the school in his 16 years of leadership. When asked how he assembled such a great team around him, he said, "I've learned to make mistakes and change course quickly." 

Hearing this encourages me to make even more mistakes in order to learn what not to do the next time. And as I get better and better at changing courses quicker and quicker, my confidence in my ability to do so -- and ultimately succeed -- also grows. 

I turned 57 this past month of May and the great thing about seeing life from this vantage point of having failed and made mistakes many times in my life already is that things I am doing now are actually getting to be more and more fun. I am enjoying teaching more than I ever have, and when I am able to return to acting, I know that I will enjoy that even more than before. 

Winston Churchill said, "success comes from meeting each challenge, working through each failure, yet still continuing to take each action with great enthusiasm!"

The Bhagavad Gita says that "balance of mind is called yoga."

I wish for you much enthusiasm as you work through each failure, and I hope your mind can be balanced and calm through each miscalculation.

Here's to Success ... through Failure! Here's to ... Joy!

With Aloha and Metta,

P.S. Please remember those who have served in all wars to give us freedoms that we can enjoy so much almost to the point of us easily forgetting that we even have them.

Paul Revere in front of old north church

Paul Revere in front of old north church