I used to believe that every time I failed I had to start over from zero. Turns out I was wrong. Set-backs are not do-overs, they are just set-backs. You still have the experience you got by getting to this point. And the lessons you learned so far. And when you fail, and you get back up and continue, it is one more lesson you can learn.
I don’t know where I heard or read this story, or the exact details, but the gist of it goes like this.
A young man was travelling the road to success, and came upon a crossroads. At the crossroads he met a wise old monk, and so he asked the monk: “Kind master, sir, which way is the road leading to success?” the monk replied by pointing to the east. And so the young traveller set out on the road leading east.
A little while into that road he came upon a point where the incline was so littered with rocks large and small that the path completely disappeared. He turned around and travelled back to the crossroads. And once again he asked the wise old monk: “Kind master, tell me please, which is the road that leads to success?”
Once again the monk replied silently by pointing him to the west. And so the young man set out to the west. A ways down the road he ran into a muddy swamp that lay in his path, and fell face down in it. Splat! And so he turned around and went in search of the old wise monk once again, and again asked him, begging: “Please, kind sir, I truly desire to know the road to success. Will you show it to me?”
This time the monk spoke and said: “Success always lies just beyond splat. It matters less which road you travel, than who you become. You must become such a person that may persevere.”
The obvious first lesson we learn from the story is that we need to become people of character if we wish to reach success. Perseverance is not optional. But there is a less obvious lesson embedded in this story too.
The monk could have told the young man the first time they met that he would encounter dead-ends and obstacles and that when he did encounter them, he just needed to persevere. But he doesn’t. He allows the young man to fail a few times before he imparts that lesson.
I have come to see that dead-ends where we give up are also a part of the journey. Sometimes that is what it takes to break our self-dependence so we become humble enough to learn. So when we go “splat” we need to learn the lessons we can from that and get up and move forward.
Don’t wallow in the muddy swamp. Get up from your “splat” quickly and move along. “Splats” will happen, but wallowing in them is fruitless. I know, that is easier said than done. I, too, like to beat myself up for a while before I move on. But it serves no good purpose. We are not going to get out of “splat” by self-punishment or self-condemnation. We can only move beyond “splat” by grace.