Failure, and His Three Counterfeits

11.05.20 09:42 AM By Heather Kleinschmidt

We fail.

Sometimes we pretend we don’t.

Sometimes we pretend it doesn't matter.

Sometimes we give our failure too much credit.

Sometimes we never move on.


Failure, by definition, is painful.

And because it’s painful, it’s hard to look in the face. Hard to bring it wholly to mind and look it over fully. Hard to process the whole truth it offers.

But when we gather the courage and take the time to do so — when we fully consider Failure for what it is, we can see its true nature: that of a compassionate friend.

Like a surgeon, Failure cuts us with his knife, carving out the worst in us and making room for the best to flourish. Failure sees you with compassion and warmth, but with clarity of sight, aware of every danger within. He doesn’t berate you or abuse you. Nor does he sugarcoat or pretend.

Failure gives us that gentle tap on the shoulder when he senses any threat to our lasting wellbeing. And when we don’t listen, sometimes he slaps us in the face. He knows that any pain he causes us now is worth it if we only will learn.

But there’s a problem:

The problem is that Failure is powerful. He’s one of the most powerful forces that shape the identities that shape the cultures that shape the world.

And because Failure is so powerful, a number of counterfeits have arisen to vie for his position.

These Counterfeits, each in their own way, work to sabotage the true purpose of Failure — which is to help you forward in a great adventure.

Photo by Amelia Brown on Unsplash
Photo by Amelia Brown on Unsplash

Counterfeit #1 weaponizes Failure’s tools in an effort to drag you down. With unrelenting fervor, she cuts and breaks you until you can no longer function. She takes your weakness and torments you with it. Rather than using the scalpel and drill only to remove the cancer, she cuts out twice as much healthy tissue as diseased tissue. She damages working systems and breaks strong bones, and she does it all in the name of Failure. But she is a counterfeit — her real name is Cruelty.

Photo by Wilfried Santer on Unsplash
Photo by Wilfried Santer on Unsplash

Counterfeit #2 takes the opposite tack. He refuses to use Failure’s tools, instead replacing them with useless — but pleasant — alternatives. He takes Failure’s syringe and fills it with glitter paste. He takes Failure’s scalpel and replaces it with a feather. He gives you laughing gas because it feels good, and then lets you go home and tells you you’ll be fine — when you know damn well that something hasn’t been set right and it’s just a matter of time before it catches up with you. His name is Indulgence.

Photo by Kamil Ślusarczyk on Unsplash
Photo by Kamil Ślusarczyk on Unsplash

Counterfeit #3 lives in a world her own. She has built a fortress around Failure’s home, and she won’t let you near it. She’s covered the walls with graffiti and murals in an effort to conceal Failure’s presence. She wants you to forget it’s even there, to live as though it doesn’t exist. This Counterfeit’s name is Denial.

All three of The Counterfeits work to keep Failure in a cage. They attempt to keep you away from any true acquaintance with Failure. They tell you lies about Failure. They masquerade as Failure, claiming to represent his character, hoping you won’t ever wake up to recognize the lies they tell— but the truth is...

...the truth is that Failure is not Cruelty. He is not Indulgence. And he is not Denial.

The Character of Failure

Failure is a compassionate surgeon. He uses anesthesia to temporarily numb the pain, but never as a permanent solution. He cuts away what is necessary with precision, going as deep as is needed. He does not apologize for the pain he causes — because he knows that it’s for your health and benefit, and that if he doesn’t act now, then what is coming will be much worse. But he also does everything in his power to act swiftly and with minimal damage. He never overwhelms you by tackling too much at once. He lets you heal and rebuild the organ structures before taking you in for a new surgery. His aim is to see you thrive. He knows his purpose, and he is passionate about it: he’s here to help you live. To live to the fullest, the best life you possibly can.

The Counterfeits have absolutely no power over you. They claim to — but alas, this is yet another lie. At any point in time, you have every right and every capability to stop, to look the Counterfeit in the face. To see it for what it is. And to walk over to the cage where Failure beckons and to unlock the door. The Counterfeits have no power to stop you — they are not able to do anything but to yell and scream and lie.

Once you’ve opened the door and released Failure, he banishes The Counterfeits. He will never destroy them completely — they’ll always be a distant presence, trying to regain their position — and you have the freedom to listen to whomever you choose. But he can quiet them and send them away, leaving space for you to hear his corrections, kind and true.

You can learn to hear his voice and to recognize his gentle tap on the shoulder. To trust his judgment when surgery is necessary and to welcome the medicine he offers in forgiveness and compassion.

In so doing, you prove his worth and fulfill his purpose — because you live. Healthy, full, and vibrant life are yours because you’ve allowed Failure along for the journey, embracing both his pain and his kindness at each and every stage.

Each week, I do a deep-dive into the question of living meaningfully.

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