I’ve written before on the cult of failure; but in case you’re new here, let me lay it out:
The “follow your passion” paradigm leads some entrepreneurs to success, but most artists and authors to failure. Passion may be a necessarily ingredient IF you have a strong business idea and a product. But if all you have is passion, and no product, in demand skills or quality content, the odds are well against you. Passion isn’t enough.
But rather than give up the empowering, uplifting, motivational message (which, like a pyramid scheme, rewards those authors who preach it but not the people who believe it) everybody just experiences a whole bunch of failure – which is what you get when you try to do big things without actually having the skills, quality or product ready.
Everybody likes “Follow Your Passion” because everybody likes to be told they can just keep doing whatever they want to do, and everything will work out, and even if it doesn’t, they tried, and that’s good enough.
That’s what I mean by the Cult of Failure. It looks like this: a whole bunch of people doing big things that are beyond their abilities and screwing up pretty bad. They have bad product launches. They write bad articles. They give bad speeches.
But then they feel proud because failure means they are taking risks and trying new things. So they write articles and books about how you should fail too.
In my research into these areas I came across the book “Daring Greatly.”
For people who are afraid and neurotic and overwhelmed, this book might give them courage.
It talks about how being vulnerable is good – we should allow ourselves to be vulnerable. If we are afraid to risk or afraid of getting hurt, we won’t achieve the greatness meant for us.
Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness. Yes, we are totally exposed when we are vulnerable. Yes, we are in the torture chamber that we call uncertainty. And, yes, we’re taking a huge emotional risk when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable.
It’s cool to be vulnerable. To open up. It shows courage and gets people to trust you.
Yet there are some major flaws I take personal issue with.
The first is the blanket statement that we all have shame.
The bottom line is that daring greatly requires worthiness. Shame sends the gremlins to fill our heads with completely with different messages of: Dare not! You’re not good enough!
We feel ashamed, and we need to get over it by daring greatly.
Brené’s “shame” is a little too much like Steven Pressfield “resistance” to me. An external force; an evil trying to keep us down, the personified Devil himself. We need to struggle and fight against this monster to let our light shine.
Brené introduces shame this way:
We all have it. Shame is universal and one of the most primitive human emotions that we experience. The only people who don’t experience shame lack the capacity for empathy and human connection. Here’s your choice: Fess up to experiencing shame or admit that you’re a sociopath.
Then she defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging” which can manifest with thoughts like “God, I am a loser. I’m a failure”:
The majority of shame researchers and clinicians agree that the difference between shame and guilt is best understood as the difference between “I am bad” and “I did something bad.” Guilt = I did something bad. Shame = I am bad.
Well…. shit. That makes me a sociopath.
Do I feel guilty when I make mistakes? Am I hard on myself sometimes? Sure. Do I ever feel that I am actually a bad person? Never. Maybe I had a more supportive upbringing. Maybe my lack of religious conviction reduces my propensity for shame. Maybe being a guy makes me immune. Maybe I have the narcissistic self-confidence of artistic genius (but I don’t think so).
Actually I think shame is probably a symptom of the Follow Your Passion lifestyle – there will always be conflict between the bull-headed, art for art’s sake, completely autonomous and self-destructive life vs. the more balanced approach that focuses on making things people need and serving people. Doubt and uncertainty is guaranteed when you spend years developing something and you have no idea whether anybody will like it (that’s why it’s a bad idea!).
Studying philosophy, theology and literature for a decade probably gave me a greater understanding of history and humanity; probably accomplishing a lot of big things has constantly boosted my sense of ability. Brené needs me to feel shame so I can get past it and become vulnerable, but honestly, I just ain’t got that particular problem.
I have no problem being vulnerable. I have very low tolerance for pretension. I’m honest and direct, and a little weak and girly (I’m not hiding my emotions between a manly show of power because I think it’s expected of me. I just don’t care.)
Vulnerability just doesn’t mean much to me, because I focus on developing my strengths and talents, and using those to achieve more success, influence and control over my life.
What’s so great about vulnerability?
Any good businessperson is averse to risk. Before taking on a particular project or investment, they are going to learn a lot about it, hire the best people, and do everything possible to get it right and make it a huge success.
The more prepared, skilled and qualified they are, the less vulnerability they will feel.
Can putting yourself in vulnerable situations led to increased personal growth? Sure. Maybe there are some instances where you should face your fears and gain more courage. Yes, you should do what you’re afraid of, and challenge yourself, and set your aim higher.
And you might fail a few times – it’s inevitable. But then you learn.
And you get better. And you stop making stupid mistakes. Then your vulnerability goes way down, and your success increases. Life gets easier and easier.
Shame, sex and gender relationships
In an interesting section of the book, Brené admits she’s only done interviews with women and doesn’t know a lot about men. At a book signing, a man challenged her a bit, but then….
His eyes welled up with tears. He said, “We have shame. Deep shame. But when we reach out and share our stories, we get the emotional shit beat out of us.”
From then on, Brené is certain that men and women are equally affected by shame.
However – she also notes that men have an extra burden not to be vulnerable.
But the truth is that most women can’t stomach it. In those moments when real vulnerability happens in men, most of us recoil with fear and that fear manifests as everything from disappointment to disgust. And men are very smart. They know the risks, and they see the look in our eyes when we’re thinking, C’mon! Pull it together. Man up.
So vulnerability is good, but not manly, and it’s a big turnoff.
She cements this idea in her conclusion, which talked about a guy in his 20’s that took her advice. He liked a girl and decided to be vulnerable by telling her he loved her.
Both his roommates knew this was a novice move.
Even Brené knew it wouldn’t go well, she “winced and hoped for a happy ending to the story.”
But no such luck. He blew his chance. Rather than letting the relationship develop naturally and building up the attraction, he Dared Greatly and lost.
Daring greatly is not about winning or losing. It’s about courage. In a world where scarcity and shame dominate and feeling afraid has become second nature, vulnerability is subversive. Uncomfortable. It’s even a little dangerous at times. And, without question, putting ourselves out there means there’s a far greater risk of feeling hurt.
Is that really what you want out of life? To be courageous all the time, but never succeed in any of your endeavors? Courage to try and do something, that’s great. But courage to show your vulnerability and thereby destroy your success? Who does that help? What’s the point?
I would counter that courage is only necessarily when taking on risky projects that you aren’t capable of handling well. In those cases, it takes courage to push through. But why are you focusing on risky projects?
To give a personal example, my first book and most of my early paintings didn’t do so well. I “Dared Greatly” and “Followed my Passion” – and about 10 years later, I realized those things I’d been creating weren’t that interesting to other people.
So I decided to focus on using the skills I’d developed to help more people.
This week I started up two new businesses, hired people to build the websites, wrote all the content, and have big launches scheduled. I didn’t need any courage for this. I know there’s a market already, and I know my offer and branding is going to stand out and blow the competition out of the water. I feel energetic, excited, but not nervous or anxious at all.
I’m just setting up a system. Next month it will all be run by someone else, and I’ll have boosted my income again. Where does guilt or shame or courage fit into to all this? I’ll refuse the claim that, since I’m not anxious, this isn’t really my passion or what I’m supposed to be doing with my life.
What’s my end goal? To live on a beach and read books all day and do absolutely nothing but read and write. That’s my passion. Can I get there by believing in it? Should I just move to the beach and hope things work out? NO. I needed to set up businesses and services that can run without me. Next year I’ll finish my PHD, but I won’t need to hunt for an academic teaching position. I don’t need to publish articles to boost my resume to keep my job.
Instead I’ll be traveling around the world, reading and writing books. I’ll be virtually retired, at 35. Did I get there by taking big risks and going out of my comfort zone? No – I learned how to use my skills and talents to help other people, built businesses, got better at it, charged more, and after working my butt off for a few years, am starting to feel like things are under control.
The Best Offer
Recently I watched The Best Offer starring Geoffrey Rush, Jim Sturgess, Sylvia Hoeks
They form a bizarre relationship. Previously he’s always kept himself separate, wearing gloves and afraid to touch people, dining alone. Through manipulation, he’s collected a priceless gallery of portraits, which he keeps tightly locked away in a private vault.
His whole life he’s been waiting for someone special; collecting paintings of women because real women frighten him.
He convinces Claire, the owner of the Villa, to come out from hiding. He teaches her to be vulnerable, and coaxes her out of her paranoia.
Except – the whole time he’s been part of a massive scam. As soon as he lets Claire into his own house and shows off his paintings, her partners move in and rob him blind.
He ends up in a mental institution, unable to deal with everything he’d lost.
Is he “better off” having loved than never to have loved at all?
Can he comfort himself by saying “Oh well, I Dared Greatly, which naturally leads to some vulnerability and pain, but it’s worth it (even if I lost millions and millions of dollars, my whole life’s work, and was made a fool of by some young kids).”
Follow your passion leads to failure and vulnerability
Personally, I don’t much care for failure and vulnerability. I’d rather make more money than lose what I have; I’d rather strengthen my relationships than have them all fall away; I’d rather my house didn’t fall down in an earthquake because I didn’t reinforce the foundations like I should have.
I’d rather prepare hard so that my speech or event was mind-numbingly amazing, not just “a good try.”
I’d rather spend time writing books that will be bestsellers, rather than taking a risk on a project I don’t know if anybody is going to like. Of course – after you write your bestsellers and make a ton of money and have time and freedom, then of course you can take more risks and try new things (but it’s less risky, because you’ve already built up a platform).
Don’t start out by taking stupid risks. Start out by being smart, making a name, doing everything better than anybody else in your field.
What are your thoughts? Did you read the book? Am I missing the point?
I’m a philosophy dropout with a PhD in Literature. I covet a cabin full of cats, where I can write fantasy novels to pay for my cake addiction. Sometimes I live in castles.