These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

[Alumni Guest Post] Failure as Illumination

Posted on September 1, 2014 by Eva Neuhaus

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evaneuAll the month of Elul before eating and sleeping let every man sit and look into his soul, and search his deeds, that he may make confession. (S.Y. Agnon, Days of Awe, citing Maharil)

Last week I had an epic fail. I think failures are precious—especially the big ones— because they offer a huge window into the unconscious. The unconscious is the code behind the programs we’re running, so seeing it in action helps us understand how we operate.

Once I recovered from my embarrassment, I started figuring out what had happened. What were the unconscious motivations that compelled me to make the decisions I made? Often we make ourselves miserable when we screw up because we feel that giving ourselves pain will prevent similar incidents from happening in the future (not true). Understanding why I did what I did actually helped release the shame and enabled me to be proactive in a) repairing the situation at hand and b) taking steps toward ensuring that it would not happen again.

I got really into this inquiry and made a list of past failures—what happened and the impetus behind what I did—and patterns began to emerge. I could see that the qualities that cause me to fail are my biggest assets when used constructively. The positive aspect of gluttony is resourcefulness, for example. This exercise has been hugely illuminating in understanding the shape of my unconscious—shedding light on my blind spots and showing me where my work is moving forward. As we prepare for the Days of Awe, may we be blessed with the courage to see ourselves clearly, with the ability to find the power in our limitations and use them to serve in the highest way possible.

Read more on my blog.