The Tao Te Ching on “Failure”

Verse 79 of the Tao te Ching begins with what may seem like a paradox: “Failure is an opportunity.”

Of course, I never or rarely saw it like that as it was happening. The most prominent failures lodged in my memory seemed like calamities at the time. But the Tao got me thinking, what have I learned from my failures? I share three of my failures below, and what I learned from each.

I thought I was madly in love in my 20’s, but got dumped in an email.

💡 I realized I didn’t have much of a clue in what I was looking for in a relationship. My shock and heartbreak after opening that email gave way to a stronger man who was able to remove his rose-colored glasses and consider what a trusting relationship might actually be. I took seven years off from being in a committed relationship and as my friend Sierra would say, learned how to “date myself.”

I spent my entire 401k from eight years of working for a multinational company in just under 3 years.

💡 I had maxed-out credit cards, and $35 overdraft fees in my checking account that I can still see etched in red in my mind. This rock-bottom moment forced me to discover what responsibility actually means. I had to admit that I didn’t have discipline in how I managed my time or my money… one of the most humbling but transformative moments of my life.

For years I worked with a stubborn “lone wolf” mentality that if spoken, would sound something like this, “If you want it done right, you’ve got to do it yourself.”

💡 I realized that while I could be grateful for my sense of independence, trying to do everything myself had gargantuan limitations. Furthermore, thinking that I was doing it all myself wasn’t even accurate – I was getting help almost the entire time! Until I could see through the veil of my pride, and my limiting lone wolf mentality, I just didn’t want to admit I needed help. When I hit me that I didn’t have to do it all myself, and that it was okay to ask for help, everything changed. Now I can still appreciate my independence, but see clearly that most of what I’m working on requires teams and teamwork, which is infinitely more enjoyable than trying to get it all done on my own.

Why am I sharing my failures with you? Because in my opinion, the Tao Te Ching is spot on – failure IS an opportunity. It’s also inevitable if we are actually out in the word taking risks and trying things to see if they work.

Yet how we choose to view those failures is entirely on us.

Like Wayne Dyer would say, “The wake can’t drive the boat.” You can look back at the wake (your past) and learn from it, but it simply can’t define you, unless you let it.

Here’s the next line of verse 79* which is great food for thought:
“If you blame someone else, there is no end to the blame.”

Which “failure” of yours are you willing to reframe, whether in the past or the present, to see as an opportunity?

To your greatness,

* from Stephen Mitchell’s translation of the Tao Te Ching