The Power of Failure

“The greatest teacher failure is.”

I’m sitting in a crowded theater, lost in an epic moment in this classic movie series, when BAM! I’m reminded again of something that so often seems to elude me. I immediately reached for my phone to make a note so I wouldn’t forget it.

If the sentence syntax or classic movie reference haven’t yet given it away, this quote came from Yoda, in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. In the scene he is helping a disillusioned Luke Skywalker overcome the loss of a student to the dark side. Yoda challenges Luke, a former student his, to look past this event; to learn a new way to become a Jedi, one which makes room for mistakes and shortcomings as part of the training process.

It is a poignant scene, rich with drama, tension, and probably a heavy dose of foreshadowing. Like all great truth and wisdom, it transcends the context and asks us to grapple with the same questions as Luke — what is your relationship with failure?

Mine has been rocky, to say the least. I’ve known of “her” existence my entire life, but for most of it I’ve wanted nothing to do with her. She wasn’t someone I wanted to be associated with. To be honest, I was much more attracted to “perfection.” She, I told myself, was more my type.

On the occasions when I did connect with failure, I didn’t want to linger. To me, she was not a teacher, but someone who might tarnish my reputation. I certainly didn’t want others to see me with her. That was too risky. They might begin to associate me with her and I couldn’t have that.

There have been times when, for a brief moment, I could see failure as the teacher she is. I certainly tried to allow her space to teach others. More recently, I’ve tried to allow her to inform my own experience. But soon I catch the glimpse of perfection and am off pursuing her again. Or, like Luke Skywalker, I succumb to fear and retreat from view.

The thing about great teachers is they’re usually right. Yoda certainly qualifies. I don’t know if failure is the greatest teacher, but it can be a very good one if we let it. In the context of the story, Luke was dealing with the guilt and shame of what he viewed as a major failure. In fact, it is what drove him to disappear, seeking to live the rest of his life alone with his suffering.

My scenarios of failure have been much less consequential than Luke’s. Likely yours have been too. But the struggle with guilt, shame, and fear are the same. Most of the time we don’t want anyone to know. Unless, of course, you captured it on video and could go viral on social media. Even then, we generally feel better laughing at others versus laughing at ourselves.

When 2018 started, I set some goals to do some new things in the business space. I was optimistic and excited to give them a try. I was mindful of the wisdom and benefit of trying new things and ready to give them a shot. Six months in, I look back on those attempts and report mixed results. I would give myself grades of A, B, C+, F and F. To be expected, right? Of course, but I forgot the wisdom of Yoda.

That is, until I rewatched this movie last weekend and as I watched that scene remembered again what I too often forget. Failure can be a great teacher, but only if we let it. Perfection is a myth. Failure is a reality. And most of the time these experiences we call failures are just experiments that didn’t work out as expected. We can learn from them, as from a great teacher. Or not. The choice is ours.

So, in my best Yoda accent, I leave you with this: “Choose, you must, how failure you will see.” May the force be with you.



Categories: AttitudeNumber of views: 656

Tags: failure Yoda Star Wars

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