Failure is required. Expect nothing less.

I’m now in Chiang Mai in the northern part of Thailand for the next month, visiting my friend Elisa and switching things up a bit before I head back to the states in March. I am still yoga’ing, writing, and taking time to myself, but there’s an added perk of finishing my SE Asia adventures here: saving money with an even cheaper cost of living—most meals are between $2 and $5 (with endless great restaurants and coffee shops), and I’m staying in a studio apartment with a great view for $500 for the month.

Transitioning from Ubud’s bliss-blanket paradise to the slightly grittier, more chaotic Chiang Mai (think Sedona to Seattle) threw me for a bit of a loop on my first day here. I woke up feeling disoriented and a bit low, but then I noticed an all-day inversions workshop at the Wild Rose Yoga Studio, where I taught a workshop in May. Given my recent exploration of somatics, I figured spending the day upside down would surely turn my mood right-side up. Success! And not without a few yoga life lessons in tow.

*For non-yogis, inversions are poses where you go upside down: handstands, headstands, forearm balances, and shoulderstands. Inversions are great for your circulation, lungs, thyroid function and even for things like reducing stress, working with fear, and generally having a rollicking good time flipping around like you are five years old again.

On the expectation to go from zero to perfect . . . and stay there

I’ve been working diligently on freestanding handstands for the last year, inching my way toward balancing on my hands in the middle of the room, but spending 95% of the time falling over and trying again. Those few seconds of successful upside down suspension are bliss—worth every ounce of effort.

One learns to handstand much the same way a baby learns to walk, by *maybe* hitting it for a few seconds, falling and getting back up, each time gathering one more muscle-memory micro-clue about what the heck our bodies need to do differently to work better the next time. This process is deeply engaging, challenging, curious, and fun. Sure, you could end up with a few bruises and scrapes, but you will wear them with pride.

Many physical skills are similar; learning to ride a bike is a wobbly nerve-wracking thing . . . until it isn’t anymore, and the fear turns to exhilaration and glee as the wind whips in our face and we peddle foreword in pride from that day foreword.

So why do so many of us enter into a relationship, career, or big project and expect perfection? Moreover, why do we do this with our LIVES? If we do not instantly land on the pinpoint of balance and success and stay there, surely we have failed.

Nonsense! 

Where is the sense of fun and playfulness?

Perfect balance is often a moment in time where life is suspended and slowed down, and it is glorious. And then? It’s over, we fall out of it, and we try again. So why not have some fun and find the enjoyment on the way in AND on the way out too? What if we were to approach our lives, work and relationships this way?

In order to grow or learn a new skill—from something as specific as a handstand to as complex as an intimate relationship—we must examine and expand our relationship to:

  • Risk
  • Fear
  • Experimentation
  • Falling
  • (Losing) Control
  • Trust
  • Failure
  • Observation
  • Feedback
  • Resourcefulness
  • Persistence
  • Resilience

Which of the items on that list are already in your comfort zone? Where do you have room for more permission or playfulness?

You cannot learn a freestanding handstand by being timid, by being afraid to fall, or by only baby-kicking halfway up (trust me, I tried this for years before mustering the courage to fall, feel silly, and get back up). It cannot be done.

You have to fall in order to figure out how to get up, how to grip the floor and stay up, how to find the middle, how to engage your core, how to lift through the feet, and how to come out gracefully.

As in handstands, as in life:

Falling is the ONLY way to learn, and there is no “get out of jail” free card.

If you’re not falling in some way in an area that is important to you, you probably have room to take more risks.

So, expect to fall, and nothing less of yourself.

Falling isn’t failing (and I don’t even really believe in the word “failure” in the first place); it is trying and living . . . and that is surely something to be insanely proud of.

I’d love to hear from you in the comments: in what areas of life are you afraid to fall? 
What might it look like to take a more permissive, playful approach? 

***

Thailand at a Glance

Check out this awesome video tour of Thailand from my friend Torre. She is wrapping up a motorbike travel adventure with her boyfriend Ivan, with whom she also reluctantly agreed to sail the world for a year shortly after their first meeting.

Torre self-published a book about their story last year (when we first got connected), then it got picked up by Hyperion and sold movie rights! She heads back to Melbourne soon to launch Love with a Chance of Drowning, and I couldn’t be more excited for her. I am delighted that we get to meet for lunch on Thursday!

  • Lydia

    I’ve been reading your blog for quite some time now, and I follow your adventures with starry eyed awe. This post is no different. Only, this time, I have one thing to add: practicing handstands is wonderful, because it’s a meaningful task to you. It’s something that you want to do. Unfortunately, I spend 8 hrs of my days sitting at a desk, sending emails and doing stuff that’s less than enjoyable.

    Don’t worry, this comment isn’t meant to be negative. I think you’re very brave, and I look forward to adventures of my own in the future but, at the moment, I’m in my cube (though I’d rather be at my Crossfit box, writing, or walking my dog). This comment is simply to let you know that you’re extremely lucky to be able to spend your days doing exactly what your heart desires.

    Kudos to you for being so gutsy. I hope to join the club soon.

    Lydia

    • http://www.lifeaftercollege.org jennyblake

      Hi Lydia — thanks for taking the time to leave such a thoughtful comment. A year ago I was also looking at people doing this kind of thing with starry-eyed awe…and that’s what ultimately sparked the fire for me to create it in my own life, as truly impossible as it seemed at the time. SO, even if it feels far away now, I am excited for you, as the feeling of stumbling across a terrifyingly important or desirable goal is a nerve-wracking but exciting one. I have a feeling you’ve got a big gutsy side too—definitely reach out any time if I can ever help be a boost of courage as you start taking baby steps!

      P.S. Awesome that you do Crossfit too :) What kind of dog do you have? I looooove dogs :)

      • Lydia

        I appreciate that very much, thank you. I’m working on it, but it’s a slow process. I suppose, to be fair, I’m a lot closer to the light at the end of my tunnel now than I was last year.

        Enjoy the sunshine!
        Lydia

        ps. My pooch is a mini schnauzer, with a queen-bee attitude to match. :)

  • http://twitter.com/becomewhour Hannah

    The connection between handstands and other areas of life is so accurate! One of my personal BHAGs this year is to master the handstand (among other poses) because the relationship between learning how to fall and get back up in yoga and fall and get back up metaphorically in other areas of life finally clicked. As my partner puts it, it’s about giving yourself permission to fail – a mindset I’m working on slowly but surely :) Reading this has definitely validated that connection for me. I’ve really enjoyed hearing about your travels, I have friends living in Chiang Mai at the moment and they love it. Enjoy the rest of your trip!

    • http://www.lifeaftercollege.org jennyblake

      Hannah, thanks so much for the great comment! Love that you are also working on handstands this year :) Yes — the “permission to fall” mode and the slow eroding of the fear of experimenting takes practice but is also so rewarding to see incremental progress bit-by-bit. And so cool that you have friends in CM at the moment! It really is an amazing place….I am obsessed with all the coffee shops and great food!

  • Nick @ ayoungpro.com

    I identify with this post a lot. It is so simple logically to know that you cannot be perfect, however I still struggle with expecting perfection from myself. As I started my first post-college job I quickly realized that I was never going to be able to progress without failing a little bit. Thanks for the post!

    • http://www.lifeaftercollege.org jennyblake

      Thanks for the comment Nick! I know what you mean…all of this stuff is DEFINITELY way easier said than done. I often have to catch myself in perfectionist mode too…it’s a daily awareness thing for sure. That’s awesome though that you realized that the way to progress, especially in something as different and challenging as your first post-grad job, is through trial and error. I am sure you’re doing a wonderful job :)

  • Stacey Herbert

    I used to have a pasture who said “delay in not denial”. Your post made me think of this. Nice to read you and meet you, Jenny.

    • stacey

      Yeah, that would be * pastor and not pasture. Ugghhh.

      • http://www.lifeaftercollege.org jennyblake

        Thanks Stacey! It was great to run into you and meet you the other day at CatHouse — looking forward to seeing you again soon!

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