Another IPS (Inner Peace Symptom):  an understanding that action and failure are two sides of the same coin.  [The trick is to use failure as a signal for a course correction rather than as a stop sign….]


I’ve devoured a book, FAIL, FAIL AGAIN, FAIL BETTER:  Wise Advice For Leaning Into the Unknown, and it’s left me with a full and satisfied feeling.

This book grew out of the transcript of a commencement address by Pema Chodron, the American Buddhist nun who is also a best-selling author of many wisdom books.

Her teachers have included master Tibetan lamas, Dzigar Kontrul Rinpoche and Sakyong Mipham Rimpoche as well as the late Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche.

At various times since she became a nun in 1981, she served as the director of Karma Dzong in Boulder, Colorado and as the director of Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia.

The speech from which the book was made was a promise fulfilled.  When her granddaughter Alexandria entered Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado, Ani Chodron told the girl she would give the commencement address when the Alexandria graduated.  This was a large gift.

When her granddaughter graduated in 2014, Chodron presented this speech.  It is based on a quote from Samuel Beckett who advised, “Ever tried?  Ever failed?  No matter.  Try again.  Fail again.  Fail better.

In this clip from an Oprah Winfrey Network “SuperSoul Sunday” episode published as a YouTube video in that same year, Chodron tells a little bit about the speech.

The book that was made from the speech is a graceful, simple thing, but, as is true of a lot of Chodron’s work, the information in it is layered, and it unpacks beautifully.


My favorite bit is when Chodron tells an old Chinese story about an old farmer with a beautiful stallion and a strong and strapping son, both of whom are precious to him.

One day the horse runs away and the farmer’s wife and all their friends in the village moan and groan and tell each other how terrible it is.  The old man says, “Maybe yes, maybe no.”

“The Gaze” (of a wild Mongolian horse) by Marko Knuutila via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]
The next day the horse returns home with a wild mare.  The farmer’s wife and the villagers celebrate and tell each other what a grand thing it is.  Now the farmer and his wife have two horses.  The old man says, “Maybe yes, maybe no.”

The following day, the son decides to try and tame the wild mare.  The horse throws him off her and his leg is broken.  His wife and the villagers wail.  It is a catastrophe!  The old man says, “Maybe yes, maybe no.”

The day after that, the Chinese army comes through the village and conscripts all of the able-bodied men in the village to fight in the latest war.  The son, with his broken leg, stays home….well, you know what the farmer’s wife and the villagers said.  You know what the old man said.

That’s where the old story ends, but you do get the feeling that it probably goes on like that over and over again, ad infinitum, with the old man saying, “Maybe yes, maybe no” while the people around him mill about and react emphatically to every circumstance and situation.

Chodron advises the students to take the old man as a model as they go out into the world to meet whatever is out there for them.

She tells them, “If you can just remember the old man and what he had to say about what is happening, you’ll remember that you never know where something will lead.


Her whole point is that we live in the middle of the Great Mystery.  Nobody knows where life will take us.  Nobody knows how we will grow and develop from moment to moment.

The nun tells the graduating class that it’s a good thing to get curious about your outer circumstances and notice how they impact your internal talk.  That internal talk will be what you carry around with you and it does impact what you do in the world.

Each of us is part of a continuing saga and it sometimes goes well for us and sometimes not.  Nobody can know what happens next.  It unfolds.

“Mystery Trip” by Przemko Stachowski via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
Chodron advises that if you can avoid getting caught up or lost in the storyline, then there is the possibility that you will learn something about Mystery and about your own self.

You might even get to a space where you can stand still long enough in the rawness and vulnerability of what you feel to actually be able to get past it gracefully and learn the lessons each episode has for you.

From this space, you will be able to communicate the lessons you’ve learned from that to other people.  The event and your feelings about them become a door to a space where you can build something new.

The key to getting into that space where creativity and making can happen is to get curious.  To notice what is happening inside you as well as what is happening outside in the world.  To stand up again after you fall down.  To try again.  To “fail better,” as Beckett says.

This YouTube video, “Get Curious,” published by Sounds True, is a part of Chodron’s speech at the university.


After the speech, Chodron agreed to a follow-up interview with Sounds True publisher Tami Simon. This interview, which is another rarity for Chodron, is included in the book.

The teaching unpacks the points Chodron makes in her speech and also offers valuable strategies for working with the outer circumstances of your life to help develop your own inner strength and to reaffirm your own inner goodness.

At one point in all this Ani Pema says, Failure opens an unguarded, vulnerable and wide open space.  And from that space the best part of ourselves come out.

“Vulnerability” by Clive Moss via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
She goes on to explain how the process works and how it feels from the inside.

At the end, Chodron and Simon agree, there is only “Forward.”


My favorite quote from the FAIL, FAIL AGAIN, FAIL BETTER book is this:  “Failing better means that failure becomes a rich and fertile ground instead of just another slap in the face.

I do recommend that you get this book.  The lady is wise.

Here’s a poem:



I had forgotten:

wrapped up in

just the facts, m’am,

so busy measuring out

and weighing up

the ashes of old dreams,

caught in the conflagration

of yet another apocalyptic end,

I had forgotten

just how beautiful

the ruins look

and just how much I love

the nicked and dented

lived-in parts of

this life I have made.


Sometimes I confuse

the facts for the truth.

A common failing, I suppose.


And here I am again

working on being “special.”



by Netta Kanoho

Header picture credit: “Scraggly Tree Sunrise” by Ken Schwarz via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]



(Click on each of the post titles below and see where it takes you…)


Thanks for your visit.  I’d appreciate it if you’d drop a comment or note below and tell me your thoughts.

Chodron keeps pointing out that it’s never a one-shot deal.  There will be many opportunities for failure and many ways to fall down.   The trick is to work on learning how to use the failures and handle them in better ways.    Save











36 thoughts on “FAIL BETTER

  1. Great post. There is a lot to be said for learning to fail better. I’ve failed a lot in my life and I know I will fail a lot more. It used to discourage me and bring me down and cause me to give up. Now, I accept it as a necessary part of life. If it wasn’t for our many failures how would we learn to overcome obstacles? When I fail at something now, I get up, dust myself off and work to find another approach and try again. The one thing I never find myself doing anymore is giving up.

    1. Hey Mark: Thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts. Failing upward is the way to go, I think! Please do come again….

  2. I think this post is interesting, motivational and challenging. The insight and wisdom Pema Chodron provides are truths we all can use to better understand and cope with things that happen in our daily lives. It reminds me of an old saying, “The master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried.” Over coming the emotional impact on one who believes he has failed presents a significant challenge to be positive and try again. Thank you for sharing your interest and excitement about Pema Chodron.

    1. Hey Roy, thanks for your visit and your comments. Please do come again….

  3. What a positive and intriguing post and a wonderful poem to cap it all off. You have a great style of producing content here. One thing that really resonates with me is that idea of being curious and stepping out of the box. Most of the time we are taught to conform and stay inline and i think its the curious ones who step out for a minute are the ones who succeed.

    1. Hey Chris:

      Thanks for stopping by and for your kind words.  I do agree that the curious ones sure do have a more interesting time of it all.  Hee!

      Please do come again.

  4. Emmanuel Buysse says:

    Great post and it has a good messagd in it.

    People are born to fail, even as a child, we failed, but with every part that we failed, we stood up, we tried to walk, when we did it, we started to run.

    No matter how many times you fail, with every fail you make, you become better in it, and you will fail less, and become a better and stronger person, also you will become a person to look up to.

    Thanks for sharing it with us!

    1. Thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts, Emmanuel.  I do appreciate it.

      Please do come again.

  5. Great post. There is a lot of lessons to learn when you fail. 

    A lot of people, especially this younger generation, have a fear of failing but want to strive and go places in life. 

    I think people need to start looking at failure more than success – ie. I would prefer to fail, and fail, and fail over and over again then succeed once. Why? success is a result of several failures. 

    There is truth in Nike’s slogan “Just Do It” – instead of being afraid to take a leap of faith, try something new – just do it! If you fall and fail, then good you learn something new! 

    1. Bev, thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts.  I do agree that very often the fear of failure does stop people from even making a start.

      I do have to say, though, that personally, I prefer to succeed right out of the gate.  Boom!  Done!  Unfortunately, that does not seem to happen very often.  (Sigh!)

      Please do come again.

  6. Henderson says:

    You know what, I agree with you, the nun is really wise. Many times we fail and we bask in the despair of that failure. 

    From the story, I learn that failures aren’t failures. They are an avenue for one to become even more successful. Again, it goes to say that at the end, there’ll definitely be success. 

    I love love the nun and I do have to grab that book. Thank you for another inspirational round. Good poem there too.

    1. Hey, Henderson:  Good to see ya back again.  

      Pema Chodron’s one of my favorite wise people.  She always does my heart good.  I am glad you like her too.

      Please do come again.

  7. This is just so uplifting! 

    It’s important to approach failure with a different mind set, for then we would be able to achieve more. This is more so because failure is actually a discovery of one way that didn’t work. 

    One way this way of seeing life would go around is when parents actively train their children that its’s okay to make mistakes; and then learn from these mistakes.

    1. Yomi, I do thank you for your visit and for sharing your thoughts.

      Your thought that “failure is actually a discovery of one way that didn’t work” reminds me of a quote from inventor-extraordinaire Thomas Edison:  “I have never failed,” the guy said.  “I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”  (Whew!)

      Please do come again….

  8. I found this to be an interesting read causing me to think about what failure means. 

    To me, it is an expression of gaining knowledge and experience in the activities we attempt. It is a learning process that leads to wisdom and additional personal growth as we develop. 

    Ultimately, we will be fully mindful of our present state, not concerned with what we have done or anxious about our future.

    1. Welcome back, Glen.  I do agree that failure’s part of the learning process.  (Sometimes, of course, I grinch and wonder why the durned thing is such a LARGE part of the learning process, but maybe that’s why I’m not a wise guy yet.)

      Please do come again….

  9. Yanuaria Batista says:

    I am attracted to know more about how to handle failure. I think the book could help me a lot as a mother since I would like to be able to clearly teach my children the importance of knowing how to handle those feelings.

    Thanks for also sharing those video it really helps to know the direction of the book

    1. Thanks for the visit Yanuaria and for sharing your thoughts.  I do hope you will take a look at the book.  It does help.

      Please do come again….

  10. Thank you for this great article about the book FAIL, FAIL AGAIN, FAIL BETTER: Wise Advice For Leaning Into the Unknown. I really enjoyed the whole article, but especially the Chinese story with this really good answer and outlook on the life’s situations – “maybe yes, maybe no”. It’s something I will definitely try to use in my life. Thank you again!

    1. Sandy, thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts.  I agree, “maybe yes, maybe no” is a grand stance to take.  The story isn’t over until it’s over, after all.

      Please do come again.

  11. SeunJeremiah says:

    Thanks for this interesting article.  Failure is the most important key to success. 

    I know that may seem a bit counter intuitive but I was recently looking back over some of my notes and I was reminded that, for a great many people their fear of failure is literally the only thing that is stopping them from success. 

    And also their fear of ‘criticism’ from failing is their biggest road block. 

    Indeed failure has been a motivation to me all my life to get back up and keep trying. 

    I’ll also check the recommended book suggested. Thanks alot.

    1. Welcome back, SeunJeremiah.  Thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts.

      You are right that failure and the fear of criticism that comes from failing can very often stop people from even starting.  Having a way to reframe “FAIL” can definitely help to keep you going.

      Please do come again.

  12. This review is not just motivational and full with wisdom but an embodiment of philosophical statements and sayings that would build and make a peaceful life. 

    Having read this post my mind set on predicting future results based on my preconceived ideas shifted and I have learnt to take situations as they come with the believe that there is a tangible reason why it happens no matter how good or bad it appears…

    Thanks for this mind healing and filling review. I hope to see more.

    1. Willie, thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts.  I do appreciate knowing that the post has been helpful.

      Please do come again.

  13. Dear Netta

    This article is very exciting. It has taught me something great in my life. 

    Many people fail because they don’t learn through mistakes. Mistakes are happening but they should not cause us to fail to keep going. Challenges should be considered as a path towards success. I have learned not to give up and learning through mistakes as a way to achieve our goals.

    Thank you very much.


    1. Thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts, Baraka.  I am so glad you found the post helpful.

      Please do come again.

  14. Wow, the nun is a very intelligent woman there to make out so much positivity out of a negative situation. That story is divine and I can imagine how inspired those kids must’ve been. 

    I really enjoyed this post and I believe that it is truly important to make out positivity from every negative situations. In the end, all things are working for  our own good. 

    This is a good post and I enjoyed it. Your poem is also very divine. I’ll be back for some more dose of inspiration.

    1. John, thank you for the visit, for sharing your thoughts and for your kind words.  I am glad you enjoyed the post.

      Please do come again.

  15. This article is a blessing to me.  There are lots of times I do feel so down when I have a rejection or I fail at one thing or another.  The understanding that when we fail, we get a better chance to make it better is really essential. The story you have here is very interesting and very nice.  I’ve learned a lot from it.

    1. Thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts, Jbryce.  I am pleased that the post was a help to you.

      Please do come again.

  16. What a beautiful write up you have here. It was a good reminder to me about how mysterious life is . It can never be predicted. 

    I also liked the advice that we don’t understand where life circumstances can lead.  Sometimes what we think is the worst can be really for our good 

    1. Bogadi, thank you for the visit and for sharing your thoughts.  I do appreciate it (and I do agree with you).

      Please do come again.

  17. Loved this article and the message. Changing your perspective and seeing failure as something more neutral rather than letting it affect you in a way that paralizes you is a practical way to go forward. Not only would you be able to change your internal world but how you view the outside way in a positive manner. 

    I must confess though I try to “fail better” it’s a bit difficult in practice. However, I’m willing to keep trying. 

    What other literature would you recommend on this topic? 

  18. Thank you for the article Netta, the title sounds like the story of my life! It is sort of like the “fool me twice” adage. Hopefully we all learn from our mistakes as we grow and go through life.

    I got my ass chewed on a football field one time because a receiver got behind me and caught the ball. You can bet I didn’t make that mistake again.

    I am curious if you have something in particular that inspired your site?

    Thanks again.

    1. You asked what inspired my site, Joseph.  Thanks for the question.

      I started on this trail of learning about how to add meaning and mana to my life when my husband Fred died and the world became a different place for me.  

      I had to figure out who Netta-all-by-herself was.  This led me down some interesting roads and I encountered many good people whose stories and lives helped me figure out where I wanted to go with my own. 

      Poetry and writing helped me make my own kind of sense out of it all and is one way I have found that allows me to shape the world in which I live to suit my own self.  These explorations also led me to a lot of joy and helped me build a modicum of peacefulness within myself, which I think is a very good thing.  

      Sometimes my blathering makes sense to other people too.  I do like that.

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