In our Holding Space Conversations event in May we asked the question ‘How to be OK with failure’. We all experience it.  We picked up this topic as a continuation of our April exploration of leadership where we used Wendy Palmer’s quote as a starting point. .

This time our check-in point to the conversation on failure was sharing a recent personal failure. Small or big.

It was interesting for me to note that when it comes to this subject that seems to entail quite a load of emotional baggage it’s easier to speak about other people’s failures, or to go to the meta level of discussing it rather than describing it from a personal perspective and staying open.  Or sharing your view on the subject than actully describing a real situation. I resorted to the meta-level strategy and explained myself before actually sharing a failure. It is not easy to share something that you care about that didn’t work out.

Talking about a failure requires vulnerability and courage because it is closely entangled with our social perception and status. Daring to speak openly about a specific situation does, however, open doors to a new way of how you relate to it. And your openness also invites interesting and valuable contributions of others.

In the following, I’m sharing some insights and observations from our conversation. They came from and were inspired by all the participants. Please consider them as random notes and starting points that are merely here to provide some food for further thinking.

Aspects of failure

Failure is part of the system, not the final destination

Failure is only a problem when you consider it the final point of your journey. Failure is, however, only a snapshot in time. When you are aware that life moves on, you can also move on from failure and use it for reflection and re-adjusting your course.


Failure has to do with consequences

A failure means that you have to suffer consequences.


Failure and judgement

Judgement is embedded in the word failure. Are you be being judged? Who is judging?
Judgement comes from outside.


Failure and emotions

How can you tell you have failed? By feeling shame and guilt. Or by feeling sad. 

Fear of failure

If you don’t agree to feel the emotion that failure brings up, you can’t move on from it. An e-motion makes you move.


Do not let failure cut the connection to my higher potential.

An embodied exploration of failure

We also explored our physical embodiment of failure. Each of us thought of a failure and took on the respective body posture that emerged from the body.

(If you are curious what your body brings up in the context of failure,, you can try this right now: take a minute, think of a failure (doesn’t have to be a big one), and from remembering the situation, move your attention to the body and see what shape it takes on. Stay in this for a bit so you can become aware and learn how you are breathing, where your attention goes, where you are making efforts. And then: be sure to let all of this go and move out of this posture.)


What some of us experienced by going into our failure states:

  • I make myself small.
  • I feel closed off and I have pain inside.
  • My head is bent down.
  • I feel attacked and try to ignore it.
  • I hold my energy back.
  • I feel disconnected from the world.

As you can imagine, it’s not a state you want to get stuck in. But it shows how we have learned to hold failure in our bodies. Being aware of oure reactive states to failure, allows us to move out of it and make new choices. 

The time we had was much too short to move to the how-to’s of dealing with failure. I personally took away from it that speaking about it is – as usual – easier than actually allowing it as a full-body experience. And this is also where the part of being OK with failure comes. Once you acknowledge it fully, you can also move on. Learning what emotional entanglements failures has for each of us and learning to let go of those attachements is a path worth exploring. 


If you have anything you’d like to share with us on the subject of failure, feel free to comment.

If you feel like exploring aspects of holding space together with us, you’re very welcome to join us in one of our upcoming Holding Space Conversations.