And Begin Again

On the surface, the cut-throat, aggressive startup vibe you find in Silicon Valley would seem incompatible with the serene, contemplative ethos associated with meditation. Yet, it seems that more and more startup executives and workers are turning to meditation’s promise of calm that beckons like a selkie’s call. Yet while the energy may seem diametrically opposed, similar mantras have arisen in both of these worlds and I find the overlap intriguing.

There is a “mantra” attributed to Silicon Valley that while variously phrased, can be summed up as “Fail early, fail often.” Anyone that has tried to meditate has certainly experienced this firsthand. You try to retain focus on something – your breath, a candle,…- and all too soon a distracting thought breaks that concentration. In this case, the meditation teacher’s mantra is “… and begin again.”

What is often overlooked in the startup mantra is the importance of acknowledging that failure is not a failure as long as you have learned something to avoid a repeat performance. (Though I have seen some explicit acknowledgment in the extended version of the quote as “Fail early, fail often, fail forward.”) This is often overlooked in meditation as well. It may seem that the cycle of start to concentrate, be interrupted by a stray thought, and repeat is failing at the same task in the same way over and over. What might be thought of, as the fictional Jane Fulton said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”

In truth, the moment that you tune into the fact that your concentration has been broken, your ability to catch yourself slipping into distraction increases. Though you will certainly go through concentrate, lose concentration, begin again process thousands of times when meditating, each moment is new and unique.

The takeaway from all this is that failure is in the eye of the beholder. You have the power to accept that you have hit an obstacle, a speed bump, and have been slowed in your progress toward a goal. As long as you maintain or regain some momentum, and learn to avoid that particular speed bump in the future, you are learning and moving forward. The goal remains attainable. It is only when you treat a speed bump as a wall and quit that you have truly failed. When faced with challenges, keep your spirit up, beat down those moments that don’t turn out as expected and transform them into learning experiences, and, above all, … begin again.