Book Review: Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better
Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better
Wise Advice for Leaning into the Unknown
by Pema Chödrön
“In your life you fail,” writes Pema Chödrön in her comforting new book, Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better: Wise Advice for Leaning into the Unknown. “It’s just part of life that things will happen that you don’t want to happen. It is part of everyone’s life experience.” And since failure is something that each of us will experience again and again in our lives, she tells us, we should learn how to fail well.
Based on the commencement address that Chödrön gave at Naropa University in 2014, Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better is a short text that aims to teach readers the “fine art of failing.” The heart of Chödrön’s lesson is that we can practice turning toward the uncomfortable and painful aspects of our experience, rather than turning away from them.
As she does in her previous books—such as When Things Fall Apart and The Places That Scare You—Chödrön demonstrates that she is intimate with the inner landscapes of failure and regret. She speaks plainly about difficult subjects in confident, encouraging tones that suggest that we, too, might make peace with ourselves.
When she speaks of her failed marriages and regrets about how the aftermath affected her kids, Chödrön is familiar and relatable. When she speaks of her years of spiritual practice, Chödrön—who is an ordained nun and senior teacher in the Shambhala Buddhist lineage founded by her teacher Chögyam Trungpa—comes across as a reliable guide. This combination of relatability and reliability makes her wisdom feel accessible.
The second half of Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better consists of a Q&A between Chödrön and Sounds True’s publisher, Tami Simon. Here Chödrön tells us that failure, because it’s such a widespread feeling, can be used as a way for us to connect with others. “Instead of failure and regret being the seed of self-loathing,” she writes, “it can become the seed of compassion and empathy.”