Picking up the Pieces
Chodesh Tov Kislev!
Kislev means that Chanukah is coming soon! (25th Kislev, 2nd December 2018 is the first night) We will celebrate the Maccabees and their defeat of the Syrian-Greeks who had destroyed the Temple, as well as the miracle of the single jar of oil that burned for eight days. The story of Chanukah can be seen as a model of how Jews have experienced destruction but always come back with greater energy to rebuild from the ashes and rededicate their institutions for the future. That is a message that European communities know well!
These ideas prompt us to think about the rich Jewish concept of “Shevirah” (brokenness). How do we deal with failure and destruction? What do we do to cope when things do not work out? Do we blame others, give up, repeat the same mistake? How do we become more resilient?
The concept of “Shevirah” makes room for both the joys and sorrows of life, and acknowledges that we are shaped by our struggles and losses as much as our victories. In order to be whole, one must also experience brokenness.
We see the archetypal experience of brokenness in the Torah when Moses broke the first set of tablets containing the Ten Commandments, after seeing the Israelites worshipping an idol. Interestingly, the broken pieces of the tablets were preserved and kept in the Ark of the Covenant, the focal point of the Jewish nation. Even though the Israelites clearly failed in their mission, and things did not go according to plan, we hold on to the pieces of the broken tablets, perhaps to remind us of our mistakes and that brokenness is part of life; inevitable and part of our growth and development.
Growing from Failure
What is your experience with failure? Consider when and how you failed in your professional life? What did you learn from it?
Too often if something fails we take it personally. So rather than exploring what happened and turn it into a learning experience we try to ignore it and move on. In his book, Failing Forward, John C Maxwell, outlines 7 principles for making failing a growth experience. Below is a digest of those principles and their parallel in Jewish sources.
- Reject Rejection. Your self-worth is not based on your performance, or external events, and we certainly should not label people a ‘failure’. The Torah teaches we are created ‘b’tzelem Elohim’ in the image of G-d and everyone has worth and value.
- Don’t Point Fingers. Take responsibility for mistakes. Do not blame others for a lack of success. Don’t repeat Adam’s mistake when God asked him if he ate from the tree, and he said “It was Chava (Eve) who gave it to me!”
- Failure is only Temporary. Don’t wallow in self-pity and failure. Failure is not permanent, it is just a stepping stone to your next success. Even though the Jews worshipped the golden calf and forfeited the tablets from God, they said sorry, moved on, and received a second set.
- Set Realistic Expectations. If you are always aiming too high then you will always fail. Don’t expect 1000 people to show up at your next event if you’ve been getting 20-30. Think about what is realistic for you in your context.
Focus on your strengths. Don’t focus exclusively on your flaws to the exclusion of your talents. As Martin Buber retold the story: “Before his death, Rabbi Zusya said, ‘In the coming world, they will not ask me: ‘Why were you not Moses?’ They will ask me: ‘Why were you not Zusya?’”. Don’t focus on being someone else. Be yourself.
- Vary approaches to achievement. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, and try again – just try it in different ways. Just as Jewish teachings says there are 70 faces of (or ways to interpret) the Torah, so too there are multiple ways to reach your goal.
- Bounceback. Acknowledge what happened, but don’t dwell on it too long so it eats away at your self-confidence. We have the concept of “teshuva”, and we practice it every year – acknowledge what happened, articulate it, try a new approach, and move on.
Use this list, and this month’s sourcesheet on Shevirah, as a springboard for discussing how failure is viewed at work and lead to more open, honest conversations leading to better planning and programming.
Happy failing forward,
The Yesod Team
For more information about this Jewish sensibility, and others, Hillel International has a great educators’ curriculum.
Learn how to Fail Forward. The Jewish Futures Conference discussed this topic and you can access their collection of articles and teachings. Ashley Good of the organisation Fail Forward spoke at this conference about how to reframe and tell stories about failure. Here is the video as well as general resources from Fail Forward.
Get inspired by Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz writing about how a righteous person is one who makes new mistakes, and Rabbi Jonathon Sacks teaches how Joseph is a model for surviving failure.
Don’t forget to check out great ideas and resources about Chanukah in Yesod’s resource archive.