Fail Better

Thursday, April 9, 2015 - 5:41 am

Fail Better

Ever tried.
Ever failed.

No matter.

Try again.
Fail again.

Fail better.

I heard a speaker recite these words from Samuel Becket in a talk last year. I had read the words before, but sitting next to my son, the recitation touched my heart deeply.

Fail Better.

Many of us live in cultures of success.
We preach the gospel of success:
Success in life.
Success at work.
Success in our personal relationships.
Success in getting fit.
Success in investment.

Real life doesn’t always work like that.
It doesn’t often work like that.
Actually, it almost never works like that.

Life is not linear.
Life is not a victory march to success.
The life that I know is messy:

Ever tried,
Ever failed.

I fail often. We fail often.
I fail in moving towards the kind of human being that I want to become.
I fail in getting to the gym.
I fail in living the true meaning of these very words here.

Life has detours
And along the detours I have met wondrous friends,
Unanticipated experiences.

The breaking of the heart along the way
has brought a healing
and I am the combination of the wound and the healing.

Try again,
Fail again.

It reminds me of the hauntingly beautiful Leonard Cohen song, “Hallelujah”:

Love is not a victory march…
It’s a cold and broken Hallelujah

What if life is not just about the goal?
What if it is not even just about the path to the goal?
I’ve ever heard wise people tell us that life is not about the success but about the buoyancy, the bounce back, the get-back-up-after-you-get-knocked-down.

What if it is not even the bounce back,
but the fall better, fail better, crack more whole,
break less, heal better, get up, fall again….

Ever tried.
Ever failed.

Fail Better.


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is a columnist for On Being. His column appears every Thursday.

He is Director of Duke University’s Islamic Studies Center. He is the past Chair for the Study of Islam, and the current Chair for Islamic Mysticism Group at the American Academy of Religion. In 2009, he was recognized by the University of North Carolina for mentoring minority students in 2009, and won the Sitterson Teaching Award for Professor of the Year in April of 2010.

Omid is the editor of the volume Progressive Muslims: On Justice, Gender, and Pluralism, which offered an understanding of Islam rooted in social justice, gender equality, and religious and ethnic pluralism. His works Politics of Knowledge in Premodern Islam, dealing with medieval Islamic history and politics, and Voices of Islam: Voices of Change were published 2006. His last book, Memories of Muhammad, deals with the biography and legacy of the Prophet Muhammad. He has forthcoming volumes on the famed mystic Rumi, contemporary Islamic debates in Iran, and American Islam.

Omid has been among the most frequently sought speakers on Islam in popular media, appearing in The New York TimesNewsweekWashington Post, PBS, NPR, NBC, CNN and other international media. He leads educational tours every year to Turkey, Morocco, or other countries, to study the rich multiple religious traditions there. The trips are open to everyone, from every country. More information at Illuminated Tours.