Tag Archives: celebrate failure

Be Willing to Drop the F Bomb

IMG_3704 When I was a senior in high school applying to college, I remember one university had as its essay question, "What was your biggest failure and what did you learn from it?". I remember considering not applying to that school because I couldn't think of a failure to write about. At the time, I was on the receiving end of a lot of attention and praise for never having failed (publicly at least). But now as an adult, I know the trap of living a life based on avoidance of failure. It's no success to have reached all the goals that have been set for you, to have checked all the boxes other people have laid out as important for you, and then to look in the mirror and not recognize yourself. Or to have your body screaming in pain or exhaustion. Having been there and done that, I have rediscovered the vital importance of failure. Not "achieving" failure as an identity, but being willing to fail. I gave a workshop on Friday to a group of engineers, coaches, consultants, startup founders, and other change agents interested in how groups of people grow and learn. It was based entirely around sound, voice, and music improvisation - in other words, the most common fears of about ninety-nine percent of the population. The name of the workshop was, "Play the Wrong Note: Daring Adventures in Learning, Failure, and Creativity". The title actually refers to a specific moment in my life when everything changed for me. Those four words - "Play the wrong note" - were the four most compassionate words ever spoken to me by a teacher. No one in a position of authority had ever said, "Lisa, I want to see you break the rules. And I'll help you." It turned out to be the most loving instructions I ever received, and the framework for an entire body of work. Continue reading

Tiger Mother Amy Chua Sets the Record Straight

So, for those of you who still haven't read the whole book, and may even find yourself getting sick and tired of all the "Tiger Mom" and "Tiger Cub" stuff being thrown around the web, here's something that might ease your suffering. Amy Chua wrote a column in USA TODAY entitled, "Here's how to reshape U.S. education." First of all, it's short and very readable in a few minutes, honoring our short American attention spans, a la USA Today. Second of all, Amy "follows the rules" and wears her academic hat here, citing historical geopolitical examples, statistics, and all those other techniques that make our rational brains feel taken care of. She sounds smart, succinct, and very put-together. To draw a wardrobe analogy, she would be wearing a navy blue suit and high heels in this article, while in Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother we saw her with no makeup, maybe some running shoes, and her "fat jeans". In other words, she wasn't so pretty and polished. Here, she only briefly hints at her own vulnerability, her own flawed human condition, by stating that she "learned her lesson the hard way" when her younger daughter (NB: the daughter who does not yet have a blog, and has not yet gotten into Harvard...she's only a freshman in high school) rebelled. She also hints at the vulnerabilities of her attackers - you know, the parenting bloggers and other self-righteous jumpers-on-the-bandwagon who feel the need to polarize every story into a right-versus-wrong debate - by saying this about parenting in particular, and why it's such a hot-button issue:
"We all desperately want to get it right and never know for sure whether we are. Perhaps it's because the stakes are so high, and it's terrifying to admit a mistake."
Ultimately, in the final paragraphs, she boils down her point of view into a very tidy philosophical statement of "East Meets West", imagining an ideal borrowing from the "best of both worlds" - the structure and discipline required in early childhood to establish a foundation of learning, and a gradual opening in the later teenage years to allow ample exploration of individuality and creative self-expression:
The great virtue of America's system is that our kids learn to be leaders, to question authority, to think creatively. But there's one critical skill where our kids lag behind: learning how to learn. East meets West If in their early years we teach our children a strong work ethic, perseverance and the value of delayed gratification, they will be much better positioned to be self-motivated and self-reliant when they become young adults. This is a way to combine East and West: more structure when our children are little (and will still listen to us), followed by increasing self-direction in their teenage years.
When I read these words, they sound familiar. I agree with them. They were the ingredients I intended to bring into fruition when I started a violin school for toddlers in Silicon Valley back in 2004. With starry eyes and the willingness to put everything on the line (including a partner-level job in venture capital) for the creation of this dream, I set out to provide the ultimate combination of Eastern and Western philosophies. This was to be "more than violin lessons". It was to be "lifelong learning", using the vehicle of violin to teach discipline, teamwork, leadership, collaboration, listening, sensitivity, confidence, and mastery. Everything I could think of could be taught through the journey of learning to play violin and performing around the world. I actually used the term "learning how to learn" in my parent seminars and recruiting presentations. Continue reading

Taking Things Apart: Videos of Leaving the Cradle

It's been just over a year now since I stepped with clarity into the next phase of my life by leaving a business I came to California to create, back in 2004. I've told the story so many times that it may seem like "old news" to some of you, but for me, that one decision was a *huge* step. It cleared the way for so much magic that has emerged - through effort and spontaneous creativity, guided by intention and enabled by practice - over the past year. Last week I went through the embodied steps of letting go - moving all the physical items out of the Cradle of Manifestation after acknowledging that a 1,800-square-foot facility no longer matched the life I am creating. In the process, I've come face-to-face with so many of my deeply held beliefs and default patterns. I believed that being a "responsible" person - a piece of my identity I held tightly as a symbol of my worthiness to occupy space on this planet - meant putting other people's needs ahead of my own, no matter what the cost. In my work, this was expressed as taking full responsibility for all outcomes associated with the people I was involved with - which translated into poor delegation, inability to trust other people's skills and ways of doing things, and the result of preferring to do everything on my own, so it would be perfect. Ultimately, I experienced exhaustion and burnout as the destination on this path. After I crossed the hurdle of actually setting a boundary, saying "no more" to my own business (which, at the time, was the only path I felt drawn to), and risking the disappointment of other people (which, at the time, was my greatest and most paralyzing fear), the same belief expressed itself as a firm resolve in my mind to continue paying rent on my office space simply because I had signed a lease, and that was that. An agreement was an agreement, with no room for discussion. I was a person who kept my word. But living by those old rules under the new circumstance of starting a business from scratch in a new industry translated to prioritizing my landlords' needs over my own, which I did for an entire year. I dutifully and silently wrote each check and made sure it arrived before the first of every month. For an entire year. I was silently proving to myself my own worth as a "responsible" person (daughter, girl), but in fact I was not honoring myself or my fledgling business fully. Continue reading

Or Else What? Finding Your Own Answer To Holiday Overwhelm

It seems to me that there's this game we play around the holidays. We somehow feel obligated to replay the old tapes of the past, gathering together in the same ways, repeating the same "traditions", whether or not they still work for us. The result? A clenching of the jaw, a tensing of our shoulders, a knotted up feeling in our stomach, as we enter this "joyous" holiday season. Some of us might even roll our eyes without knowing it when we say the word "family". Since all the messages around us are shouting, "Peace! Joy! Love! Thankfulness! Giving!" we feel downright guilty about our deepest truth: we just don't want to do the holidays the same way anymore. That guilt gnaws at our energy for a good two months. We conduct our surface actions under the weight of the thought, "This is what I have to do." So we suck it up. We buy our plane tickets, or get in our cars, battling the crowds of people who all seem to be happily going to visit family, but very well could be gnawing away inside too. Or we buy the new sparkly red dress, the high heels, the purse, the whole deal. We show up at the party with all the people we don't even like. We do it anyway. Why? Not exactly by choice, but because we think "we have to".

Or else what?

When was the last time you questioned your own holiday patterns of action and so-called "traditions"? When was the last time you gave yourself permission to even ask the question, "What do I want to do for the holidays?" Continue reading

Being Your Own Hero

OK, I admit it. I was disappointed. I was disappointed when Tiger Woods, just a few short months after the "SUV incident" outside his home in Florida, staged a press conference, stood behind a podium, and recited a canned apology written in corporate-speak by the damage-control PR spin doctors at Nike. Like a dutiful boy, he was dressed in a suit, clean-shaven, looking humble and respectful to the corporate sponsors who made his public career that much more lucrative. But beneath the surface was a whole story waiting to be uncovered, spoken, and shared. I secretly (and not so secretly) cheered Tiger on when he hit the apparent depths of his personal crisis - the extent of his adultery revealed, the intensity of the pain he has kept hidden beneath the socially acceptable, corporate endorsement-worthy veneer of relentless competitiveness and focus. I saw this as an opportunity for Tiger to deliver his real "medicine" to the world, and to show us how a hero falls, journeys through the abyss of his own self-discovery, and emerges whole in a different way. With a different message about heroicism, with a more solid foundation on which to stand, with a deeper message than can be conveyed merely by counting wins and trophies. Continue reading

Practicing Balance – Part 2 of 2

This post grew out of my reflections on being confused...read Part 1 if you haven't already. With all the talk of clarity, power, intention, success, and purpose, it can be a little intimidating to acknowledge when you have a moment of confusion. But there is a time for confusion. And until we can acknowledge and admit this to ourselves, we cannot move through it. We gloss over the surface of it, trying to fix the outer appearance of our lives, staying busy and enrolled in things, buying more, doing more, hoping that all that activity will make the confusion go away. It's true that action and forward motion is such a powerful antidote to feeling stuck and ruminating for too long. But I've also found that acknowledging the truth, and being able to rest in the feeling of truth, is an essential starting point.

From "Woo Woo" to "Win Win"....where's the balance? Continue reading

Learning to celebrate your failures…

Here's a first installment on what I feel will become a BIG topic of focus on this blog and in my work.

Did you learn to celebrate failure as a child?

Ever notice that when toddlers are just learning to walk, the adults in their lives are THRILLED to see them bobble around, lose their balance, and fall down? The adults clap their hands, and shriek with delight when these little ones take even one fraction of what looks like might be a first step. When you were learning to walk, the adults in your life kept doing this, and you kept falling down, over and over again, until one day you took that first step, and then a second step, and then another... Once you became an "expert" walker, it was no longer cause for celebration to see you take a step. After awhile, adults started warning you about the "dangers" of falling down, when only several months earlier, the very same action had been enough to cause your parents to reach for their cameras or call the grandparents. Continue reading