Archive for July, 2012

Embracing Failure

Sunday, July 8th, 2012

I always appreciate how a few very wise words from a smart thinker can bolster my spirits.  Lately I have much appreciation for the work of Friedrich Nietzsche.

I have just finished reading the wonderful book "The Consolations of Philosophy" by Alain de Botton.  (You can find the book on Amazon HERE)  I had previously read his book "How Proust Can Change Your Life" which I also found inspiring and a great read!  This new book did not disappoint.

In the book, Mr. Botton (or is that Mr. de Botton??) describes the philosophies of six great thinkers.  Not only is the information presented in a way that is accessible and often very funny, but he never makes the reader feel stupid and is NEVER condescending in any way.  This is not a simple accomplishment when explaining the ideas of Socrates, Epicurus, or Montaigne.  Yet I finished the book feeling all these men, and Mr. Botton, were my friends.

Nietzsche firmly believed that failure and pain were not something to be shunned or avoided, but rather embraced.  In his day, as in ours, many people lived their lives trying desperately to avoid being uncomfortable in any way.  Seeking pleasure is not a bad thing, but Nietzsche hated the idea that so many people would rather numb themselves with drugs or alcohol rather than look difficulties in the face.

But even more than confronting pain or failure, Nietzsche felt we should embrace them and appreciate the many gifts they bring to our lives.  Nietzsche compared the hard work of creating something great to climbing a mountain.  He loved mountains, and often used this analogy.  To climb a mountain you must sweat, toil, get out of breath, get sore muscles, and basically exhaust one's personal resources.  But ah, when you arrive at the peak, what a pay-off with the majesty of the view!

Similarly, he noted that although many people assume that many masterpieces just spring fully formed form the minds of great authors, composers, painters, creative people of every kind, the truth is that great amounts of toil and work and hardship are behind each accomplishment.  The early drafts of great books will often show many rewrites, notes in margins, crossing through of text to start again.  How many artistic masterpieces have layer after layer of paint underneath, the evidence of earlier attempts painted over and changed many many times?

This work and toil is often under-appreciated, but the creative person understands that these earlier failures are a great gift, are part of the process, and actually make one strong enough to move forward and actually accomplish the final product.

In the gym, real progress comes from sweat, being out of breath, muscles hurting and straining.  But the results and feelings of strength and health that result are all the sweeter because of the work involved.  We watch an athlete set a new world record time in the Olympics, but forget the endless hours of physical and mental preparation that went into making this possible.

So the next time you find yourself tired and hurting, frustrated and failing, remember the lessons of Nietzsche, see the true larger perspective, and keep working.  The accomplishment of the end result will be all that much sweeter.