#29 – About Failure

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work….Thomas Edison


The quote by Thomas Edison is a great lead in to this next question:  #29–What was your single greatest personal failure?  Did it make you weaker or stronger?  What did you learn? How did you change?

I have to say, this question is one of those that, if I wasn’t pulling them out of a jar, I would probably put off answering.  Even though ‘failure’, like any other word,  is just a symbol representing a meaning that we have adopted as a tribe to apply to it, it carries so much baggage that it would be easy to come up with some blah-blah line that would get me off the hook.  I could say something like, “I don’t believe in failure.  Life is a series of experiments…some work and some don’t…blah blah blah.”  Or “The only failure is to give up trying…blah blah blah.”  Both of which are absolutely true and I could certainly write them with clear conscience.

However, the reality is also that when we try something and screw it up royally, as I, and probably you, have done, we do feel like we have ‘failed’.  We take on the baggage and we beat ourselves up, at least for a little while.  Then, hopefully, we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and start over—lesson learned.  Or at least if we are smart, lesson learned.  And I believe it is true that the real failure is if you DON’T pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start over.

But I’m going to take this question as it was intended—what is one thing that I did royally screw up and how did it affect me going forward?  Am I weaker or stronger for it?  Did I learn from it?  Did I change?

Actually this question is particularly relevant right now.  What I would call my single greatest failure has to do with money and taking care of it.  Back in 2000, I made a whole boatload of money in one month.  It happened to be a month that came just after a large contract came to an end, and all the people I had working for me had moved on to other opportunities, including the person who did the bookkeeping.  Now I’m not really a detail person.  I’m an idea person.  In fact, I remember once, at the height of my business, Shantelle, one of the great team who worked for me, wanted me to look something over and sign it.  I was busy and I said, “Okay just leave it there and I’ll sign it in a minute,” pointing to the corner of my messy desk.  She said, “Nope, I’m going to stand here and hold it till you sign it.”  She knew me.

So when I made that boatload of money, I failed to keep good records.  I failed to take care of it and invest it wisely.  I gave people things and lent money to people who asked–and never got it back.  I took a bunch of really interesting courses that required travelling all over the country.  I didn’t invoice and follow up when I should have.  Worst of all, I didn’t pay my taxes when I should have.

It took me a while to spend it all but I worked hard at it until I did.  And then it took me a while to get it all sorted out and the taxes paid.  That was my greatest personal failure.

What did I learn from it?  Well I should have learned to keep better records and pay attention to the details but that would probably require a whole personality transplant.  So the other day, facing the same kind of situation potentially, I thought about it and decided that what I need to do is work from my strengths and let someone else take over what I’m lousy at.  I need a bookkeeper.  And I need the bookkeeper in advance of when I earn a whole boatload of money again so that I’m ready next time and don’t replay the same old movie.

Anyone know a great, cheap bookkeeper and virtual assistant in Canada?  Preferably in Ontario?

 Many of life’s failures are men who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up…Thomas Edison


#84: About Memories

God has been very good to me, for I never dwell upon anything wrong which a person has done, so as to remember it afterwards. If I do remember it, I always see some other virtue in that person.
Saint Teresa of Avila…

As promised, I pulled a question out of a jar.  The question for today is number 84: What do you want to remember forever?  Why?

My first thought was that I want to remember my bank account PIN forever because it really sucks when you forget it.  I have experienced that.  I don’t like going to the dentist, in fact, I really really hate it and no dentist gets near me unless I am all relaxed with nitrous oxide—laughing gas.  I had heard that nitrous oxide killed brain cells but I didn’t, and still don’t, care.  Apparently, we have about 100 billion brain cells.  So if the laughing gas causes a major massacre of about 300,000 brain cells, it would still be worth it to me.  If I’m going to the dentist, I’m getting laughing gas. 

One time I enjoyed the calming and anesthetic properties of laughing gas for about an hour at the dentist.  At the end of that hour, whatever brain cell had been killed was the one containing my bank PIN because that knowledge was GONE.  And it didn’t come back.  Eventually I had to go to the bank and change it because that number was irretrievable.  So I always want to remember my PIN.  And my various passwords for that matter.

But that’s kind of piddly.  Answering that question with ‘my PIN number’ won’t change my life, so I dug a little deeper.

My next thought was a very heart-stirring memory.  Last Christmas I went to Ottawa to visit my son and his family, including my 2 year old grandson, Jack.  In Ottawa, you take an escalator down to the baggage area and it’s open to the public.  As soon as I got on the escalator and started my descent, I saw a man with a little boy at the bottom close to the escalators.  Suddenly the little boy broke loose and ran over to the bottom of the escalator and started jumping up and down and yelling, ‘Hi Nanny! Hi Nanny! Hi Nanny!”  It still brings tears to my eyes to remember that.  I hope I remember it forever.

That memory then got me thinking about other things I want to always remember.  I realized that often the good memories of people and situations are fogged in by other memories that are bleaker. 

Let’s face it, even our closest relationships are sometimes marred by anger, cruel words and actions, and just plain thoughtlessness.  Sometimes when we think of certain people we tend more to remember the pettiness and meanness rather than just the kindnesses and humor and caring. 

As people get older, for example, they sometimes start to get more crochety and negative and difficult and we can start to forget how fun and caring they once were.  So, after thinking about that for a few minutes, I put a bit more effort into remembering only good stuff about people that are close to me or have been. 

I remember my dad taking us to the park on summer afternoons.  He would play with us on the monkey bars and all the change would fall out of his pockets and we would run around and pick it up like it was a prize.  I remember when I was young, a teacher tried to stop me from being left-handed and she started rapping my knuckles with a ruler.  My mum, who was also left-handed, marched down to the school and I swear that teacher has never been the same since.  I remember going to a fair with my brother and our kids and we all bought a balloon and inhaled the helium and talked in funny voices, laughing hysterically.  (Okay, I know you’re starting to think ‘what is it with her and inhaling weird brain-cell killing gases.) 

I decided that I want to always remember the good things about the people I know and care about.  I can forget the bad, but I want to remember the good things.  Instead of what I’m more inclined to do—forget the good and remember the bad.

Of course, to some extent that depends on my mood.  I can, on occasion, go through spells of downness.  That’s when I like to take a bottle of whine and lay in bed and listen to country music until I get over it.  At those times, I not only remember, but I relish and relive every mean thing anyone has ever said to me.  Not healthy or fun, even with the wine and musical accompaniment.  If I forget the bad and only remember the good, perhaps I’d have less to wallow in and I’d get over those times faster.

I realize that there is a risk to only remembering the good things.  After all, we use our memories, good and bad, to learn and adjust to our environment and possible dangers.  Without the bad memories, we would be completely unprotected, meeting and interacting with people, good or bad, in the same, open, unguarded way.  Could be scary.

On the other hand, if we create our own reality, perhaps expecting only good stuff from other people would result in good stuff coming our way.  It could change our relationships.  It could change our life.

Hello world! Welcome to 101 Questions

Wouldn’t it be cool to walk this moonlight labyrinth while you consider each of the 101 questions? You could build on in your backyard with solar lights.

I’ve just written a new book, my fifth.  The book, 101 Questions That Will Change Your Life, is in e-book form only at this time, but I expect the print copy to be published in August 2012.

101 Questions is a guided exploration of you, your life and your place in the Universe.  it has 101 questions (well, duh) that you are invited to consider and answer.  I’ve even given you some suggestions for how you might use the book, 51 of them in fact.  Here they are:

  1. Start at the beginning and answer one question at a time till you get to the end.
  2. Open the book at random and answer whatever question you get.
  3. Answer a question a day, perhaps over your morning coffee.
  4. Answer a question a day by reading it in the morning, perhaps over your morning coffee, and then thinking about it all day and writing the answer before bed.
  5. Do the same thing but make it a question a week or a question a month to give you even more time to come up with great answers.
  6. Write your answers on the 101 Questions Blog so that others can benefit from your deep thoughts.
  7. Make the questions part of a meditation practice.
  8. Join a group and discuss them at great length before coming up with your answer.
  9. Form a group if you don’t have an existing group.
  10. Write the answers down.
  11. Don’t write the answers down, that way you can change them on a whim.
  12. Answer them in song.
  13. Answer with a poem or a haiku.* (this is tough, see below)
  14. Create an answer using art—a painting, drawing, photograph.
  15. Act out the answers or create installation art.
  16. Gather other people’s opinions to help you refine your own thoughts.
  17. Write each question on a small piece of paper and pull one randomly when you feel a need to expand your mind. Or use the 101 Questions Cards that will be available here.
  18. Google each question and see what the web has to say in response.
  19. Write your favorite question on a postcard and leave it in odd public places to stretch the mind of random readers. Try coffee shops, motel rooms, libraries.
  20. You’ve heard of a message in a bottle? How about a question in a bottle?
  21. Use a question a day in your email signature.
  22. Twitter questions.
  23. Twitter answers.
  24. Choose five or seven or twenty questions to explore in-depth for a year. See how your life changes during that year. Record it.
  25. Sit in a park in the sun and just think about a question.
  26. Sit on a beach or a dock at sunrise and contemplate the question that puzzles you the most.
  27. Choose a great question and discuss it loudly and drunkenly over dinner of spaghetti and red wine.
  28. Convince your friends that you’re weird by introducing the question you think is most mind-blowing right in the middle of a sports event.
  29. Ask a random stranger on the street one of the questions.
  30. Write to your favorite author and ask them one of the questions.
  31. Try to answer each question within a limited number of words; 50 or 100 for example.
  32. Create different characters and see how their answers would vary.
  33. Pray for an answer from God.
  34. Ask a psychic.
  35. Include a question in your voicemail message. Ask listeners to leave their answer.
  36. Ask your boss.
  37. Put a classified ad in the paper asking a question and invite responses.
  38. Ask online in one of the many question and answer forums.
  39. Hire a sky-writer and have your favorite question written across the sky. Who knows how many people’s lives might be changed.
  40. Create a collage of questions.
  41. Read a question right before going to sleep and see if an answer comes to you in your dreams.
  42. Go to a poetry slam and just recite the questions – one after another—loudly.
  43. Write your own book with the questions AND the answers.
  44. Start a newspaper column where you explore the questions and answers.
  45. Have a contest. Invite people to submit the answers to your favorite questions and give a great prize for the best one – a bag of pistachios or a free trip.
  46. Give a copy of the book for Christmas with a written promise that you will spend an hour a week discussing the answers with them. Undivided attention – what a great gift.
  47. Paint the questions on your wall. Mind-blowing wall art.
  48. Ask little children and see what they say. You might be surprised.
  49. Mumble to yourself and when people say, ‘excuse me?’ ask them a question and look intently at them waiting for an answer.
  50. Create a party game. Ask a random question and have each person write their answer anonymously. Read them out and have people guess who said what.
  51. Find a labyrinth and walk it as you contemplate a question.

I have my favorites; they are in italic and in color.  In fact, I’m considering making a set of cards out of the questions to use in team building workshops.

I also have my favorite questions and I was a bit afraid that I’d pick out my favorites to blog about and then, eventually, I’d be stuck with only the ones I didn’t really like to think about and I’d be dreading blogging for days or weeks at a time.  In fact, knowing me, I’d probably decide ‘oh that’s enough now’ and abandon it.  So I cut them all up and every day I will pull a question out of a jar and blog about it.

I hope you will come back regularly and consider the questions as they come out of the jar.  I hope you will think about your own answers and contribute them in a comment.  Think of it not only as helping to expand your own perspective and boundaries but of contributing to the wisdom of the Universe, or at least all the people who will be reading this blog.  And especially me!

So I thank you in advance.  Please follow this blog and contribute whenever something catches your imagination.

*A note about the poem or haiku idea.  I am a painter.  I paint abstracts in acrylic that I call scribbles.  I don’t like to name my paintings but I’m working on a series for a solo show.  So I’ve started writing a haiku or a poem for each one instead of giving them titles.  Believe me, this is really hard.  I challenge you to try it with one question and post it here.   Here’s one of my paintings: