Karl Jaspers on failure
“The ultimate situations – death, chance, guilt and the uncertainty of the world – confront me with the reality of failure. What do I do in the face of absolute failure, which if I am honest I cannot fail to recognize? …Crucial for man is his attitude toward failure………………The way in which man approaches failure determines what he will become.”
When I look at my life it occurs to me that I have failed in so many ways
I have failed to be the kind of husband I imagined and was up for being. And I imagine that my wife sees me as a failure as a husband.
I have failed to be the kind of father I imagined and was up for being. And the kind of results I expected to show up failed to show up. I suspect that one or more of children see me as a flawed father.
I have failed to be the kind of son I imagined and was up for being. And my father often tells me how much of a disappointment I am and how I failed him.
I have failed to be the kind of brother I imagined and was up for being. My relationship with one of my brothers is particularly difficult.
I have failed to be the kind of uncle I imagined and was up for being. I came out strong out of the starting gate and then my own children arrived.
I have failed to be the kind of friend I imagined and was up for being.
I have failed to be a ‘good employee’ – you could say I am blessed/cursed with an independence of mind and the rebelliousness to go with it.
I have failed to the kind of neighbour I imagined and was up for being though I have good enough relationships with my neighbours.
I have failed to arrive at the kind of career / financial success I envisaged when I was young and at university.
I have failed in making something great out of Humanity In Action even though it got off to a great start.
I have failed to have the kind of impact I wanted and imagined that I would have on people’s lives (for the better) and the world. My sister once told me something like “I used to so look up to you. Nowadays, I am just disappointed in you.” And she had every right to be. I was at least that disappointed in myself!
I have failed to master myself – the automatic machinery that just shows up and spoils the show. This failure is the one that stings the most if I let it sting.
I have failed does that mean I am a failure?
Given that I have failed in so many ways I am free – not trapped by the allure of ‘perfection’, ‘success’, ‘reputation’, ‘looking good and avoiding looking bad’. I am free to simply be, to live, to be grateful for the privilege of living as I live: in a safe country; in an affluent/safe neighbourhood; in a nice house; as a member of a family; with the privilege of sight which allows me to be present to beauty, to navigate, to read; with the privilege of sound such that I get to enjoy music; with the privilege of movement so I can move, dance, cycle, play sports; with the privilege of touch so that I can give and receive hugs; with the privilege of language so that I can speak myself and connect with my fellow human beings in/through conversation.
I am that which I am. Anything else is simply a label that I put on myself or someone else – mother, father, brother, sister, son, daughter, friend – puts on me. What I am really interested in is this question: how can I live such that I ‘play BIG’: live an ‘extraordinary’ life: be of service to my fellow human beings; to put something into, to contribute to the game of life; and co-create a ‘world that works’, none excluded. The question is how well am I living that mission? The answer is that I can play this game much more powerfully then I am playing right now!
You and I can live in the past or be fully embedded in the present (surviving, fixing, looking good and avoiding looking bad) or we can invent, project and live into possibilities (like the possibility of ‘playing BIG’) that provide meaning for our lives, that move-touch-inspire us to live resolutely and play full-out in this game called Life.