In the year after college, my friends and I decided to start giving each month a theme. There was Anything Goes January (not all that much “went” for the innocent crew we were), followed by Freedom February and Meditation March… you get the idea.
This year - older, wiser (?), and often kinder to myself, I’d like to propose a new title for February... Fun with Failure!
I could tell you all about Albert Einstein, JK Rowling, or Denzel Washington (the later two have excellent speeches here).
Chances are, you’ve already heard a lot of stories like this. But as much as we often know intellectually that failure is good for us, it’s hard to greet the sinking feeling of plans gone awry with open arms. We tend to distract ourselves, blame others, or devolve until self-criticism. It may hurt more than the disappointment itself, but at least it’s in our “control.”
And so, I propose a project for the month: fail once a day. This doesn’t mean to sabotage yourself, but it does mean to put yourself in situations where you don’t know you’ll succeed. Ask someone out, crack on a high note, yell out a window, make an awkward joke on Zoom… you get the idea.
The most important part of this project, though, is what happens afterwards - which is a Celebratory Silly Dance. You may shout “yes, failure!” if this is possible in your location. OR it can be a subtle, internal, “yes” and silly dance. But know this: the more we can welcome failure, the more we can take the risks necessary for success. So the slightest moment of getting to know that uncomfortable feeling is of great value.
“HOW DOES THIS RELATE TO SPEAKING?” You ask.
We don’t remember speakers who are sleek. We remember speakers who got out on a limb and show us their humanity. Otherwise, we would just read the information - it’s much faster.
Before bed each night, you can ask “when did I fail today?” Perhaps jot it down, and celebrate that you are living a life of passion and growth, that you’re creating a story worth telling.
(And yes, I do write the blog posts that I myself most need to read!)
Any description of the past year feels like an understatement, and events of the past week are similarly beyond words.
I've been finding comfort in Pema Chodron's book Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change. She writes:
The truth is that we're always in some kind of in-between state, always in process. We never fully arrive. When we're present with the dynamic quality of our lives, we're also present with impermanence, uncertainty, and change. If we can stay present, then we might finally get that there's no security or certainty in the objects of our pleasure or the objects of our pain, no security or certainty in winning or losing, in compliments or criticism, in good reputation or bad- no security or certainty in anything that's fleeting, that's subject to change.
When the outer world feels scary, I often habitually grasp onto something I feel I can control: work, chocolate, self criticism...
And yet, the only true security is accepting insecurity- change upon change upon change.
Of course, this interests me as a communicator. We never know what will happen when we get up to speak. We can practice consistently, analyze our audience and their needs, and clarify our message: all of this creates the conditions for the speech to go well. But the actual speech only happens once (even if you speak the same words another time). And to be effective, we have to jive with mood of our audience, the environment around us, our own internal feelings: like a crazy jam session.
But an awesome thing about a jam session is that you're never alone. When we're present, we can be carried by the moment: it's not all up to us. To speak is to collaborate with an audience, a space, and a message. And that kind of unity can heal ourselves, our audience, and maybe even our world.