The Power of Paradox #3: Extracting Gold from Failure


This is the fourth article in a series on paradox, to help us to navigate our way into an uncertain future with more purpose, clarity and radical hopefulness.

Aiming for Recognition


“But I’ve failed. How can there be anything ideal about that?”

My client, who’d recently been passed over for a promotion at work, was confused.

“How am I supposed to feel anything other than rejection?” Her hand flippantly dismissed my suggestion that there were useful nuggets in this experience too.

You know me. The Rock of Perseverance. I wasn’t going to let her slide into despair over a blip in her career.

One of my goals is to help people see that EVERY event in life has a seed of something useful, if not serving as a blatant gift in your life. Everything has a Silver LIning.

Silence. I paused, waiting for the space to offer another approach.

“What if we explore how this situation is actually ideal for you?”

Eye rolls. A stare. She wasn’t keen on the idea.

But as she reluctantly joined me, and we plodded through the exercise (I named the first several possibilities), she began to contribute to the list.

Finding the Gold


We stopped at about eight items, because her mood had shifted from anger and resistance to curiosity and detachment.

She began to see this too as a way to gain more discernment about who and where she is in her own personal career trajectory, and life. From there, she reframed a harsh experience into something more useful. Lighter. Even (slightly) positive.

She had more energy available to consider what next. Even excitement about how to use the experience to get closer to what she truly wanted in a career, to be more purposeful, rather than a direction that didn’t engage her or appreciate her talents.

“I would never have imagined that a failure could be viewed as a win.”

Every day of your life is brimming with paradox.

What I deeply know…

Paradox exists in the very DNA of life.

It is the crossroads between your expectations about how life is, and the possibility of another reality.

Mostly, we humans pretend that life is simple so we can justify our emotional reactions and hang onto our current story.

You know. The righteous anger, the extreme disappointment, the unfettered indignation when life “happens” other than how you know it’s supposed to turn out.

You’re so certain that life should be handing you pre-made lemonade when it gives you all those juicy lemons.

But when we’re so sure that we know how life should turn out, we lose out on the possibility that an even better future exists for us.

Every which way you turn, every encounter is only as useful or provides the fodder for the next step, and the next one, if we know how (and are willing) to squeeze those lemons.

Or sell your sawdust, as used to be the saying in lumber mills attempting to profit from the trimmings in the industry. Now a multi-million dollar industry turning sawdust into profit.

We don’t find our way forward into this fragile future by considering life as black and white. Fail or win. Good or bad.

Either/or thinking creates a disconnection from the reality of how the quantum field works, providing you with endless possibilities.

So many lemons.

And here are more tools for your Both/And Toolkit, to help you find those lemons.

Paradox #4: Being Inspired and Living Humbled


Both Being Inspired and Living with Humility is certainly one of the greatest paradoxes of living on Purpose. Being Inspired literally means that the breath of life moves through you.

You are stardust or God particles. The creative impulse of the cosmos or God or the quantum field or whatever version of existence that lives beyond you, beyond the planet, resides in you, as you.

There is a Certainty of your magnificence and grandeur when you consider that this phenomenon of life called YOU is an embodied expression or holofractal version of the whole. You are the one and only version of you. No other being in existence is here to be or do what you came to be and do.

When you believe and create Intention from this level of inspiration, life happens more easily. You notice the synchronicities or “magic” that occurs routinely when you’re inspired by the actions that result from your purposeful orientation.

HOW: When your actions and decisions are rooted in your purpose, you begin to feel the magnitude of the honor of being you, in this body, in this moment. It is not an egoic claim but a recognition that you are acting from the impulse of the cosmos. Who are you really, and what choices are yours to make as this sacred being?

You may find your own inspiration through my free audio course, and The Golden Thread: Where to Find Purpose in the Stages of Your Life to help you to see how your soul has been attempting to inspire you for a lifetime. Other resources: Feeling More Free? Go Make Something to bring your newly inspired awareness into action in the world, or What’s Possible from Here? The Art of Being Unreasonable to help you explore getting out of a box. Also try out Peter Himmelman’s Let Me Out or Rosamund and Benjamin Zander’s The Art of Possibility. Or Eat Sleep Innovate by Anthony et al for an organizational perspective.

And yet, I often say…

I am Inspired by Spirit, and Humbled by my Soul’s Calling.

Living Humbled by the magnitude of the claim of being yourself only suggests that you are a part of the vast web of interconnectedness, the multiverse, the web of being.

Your role, your freedoms and your responsibilities stem from the awareness that your job, should you choose to accept it, is to be the most amplified version of yourself. No more. No less. Accepting humbly that you are destined for greatness, despite the Ambiguity of how to live that fully.

In living as a humbled artifact of an interconnected universe, the options open to you are endless, yet not directed by your striving or effort. Life Emerges step by step before you as you live in Awe of its perfection. You realize there are no wrong turns or failures.

And yet, the nuanced one-of-a-kind version of you is also here to be awe-inspiring. The greatness that is intending to emerge from you will inspire many others. You can awake to the humility of living that greatness.

HOW: As you bow to the enormity of who you really are, in your truest form, the implied responsibility can either cause you to feel fraudulent or free to accomplish what only you can do. How can you align with the freedom of that- creating through the forgiving and generous quantum field? Knowing that the universe will bring you exactly what you need to find your way.

And how can you hold the responsibility of staying aligned with what’s emerging through you while simultaneously being humbled? How can you hold these questions as a koan or prayer to guide your life?

To gain additional insight, you might explore What if Our Coming Alive Could Save Us? or Transitioning to the Magnificent New Normal to become humbled by your innate expression wanting to emerge. Other resources include Dispenza’s Becoming Supernatural, or The Field, by Lynne McTaggart, or The Self-Aware Universe by Goswami.

Paradox #5 Exploring Being and Practicing Doing


Another important paradox to grapple with is the tension between Being and Doing. Given we as humans tend to focus on productivity and accomplishment to prove ourselves, it’s no wonder that many spiritual mantras claim that “just being” is a preferred mode for evolution or awakening.

In fact, both being and doing are critical states and phases for becoming a more functional, evolved and joyful human.

The science of human development shows us we actually cannot do without being, and cannot be without doing. They’re Reciprocal, Dynamic and interconnected states.

When you think about the first time you tried to ride a bicycle, you either received instructions from a parent or friend, or you watched people riding to figure it out. Then you ultimately had to get on the 2-wheel vehicle to try out what you learned. Then if you failed, you listened or watched some more, then tried again. And for each step of the curve to riding a multi-speed bike, you had to listen-watch, then practice, then try-fail-try again.

Being is considered an “inactive” or passive state, yet is a mode of Exploring. You Receive information or Experience life. You’re in a state of Allowingyourself to Witness, Digest and Integrate. Though these processes seem inactive (because your body isn’t moving), they’re critical for your learning and evolving at every stage of life and require a significant amount of Presence and Intention.

Infants “learn” to be human through the senses- touch, sight, smell, taste, hearing- and eagerly receive everything within grasp to figure out how to be their infant self. Same for each stage of life. You witness your family, siblings, peers and tribe to explore how you fit in and belong in each phase of life. In some phases you also witness how NOT to be like your surroundings, so that you can become the next version of you.

You may have heard that Being is a more evolved state, or that you can become more true to yourself if you would just “be.” Though you certainly become more Aligned as you witness your internal dialogue and listen to what’s true, you’re still required to “do” or practice to express that truth.

Doing is considered an “active” or agentic state. You Practice the ideas or actions you learned about, Apply how to carry-out the actions better over time (try-fail-try), Measure (formally or informally) the outcomes to see what’s working, and Revise your actions as you cycle between the being and doing phases.

We learn to “do” differently in each stage of life. After the sensory inputs of infancy, as a toddler we practice playing with others in order to gain social skills and a sense of identity. As we gain mastery over those social awareness skills in childhood and adolescence, then we begin to practice new skills, including body awareness, expanded senses, intellectual and mental prowess, more complex social skills and emotional awareness.

The paradoxical element of purpose is about Being your best self and Doing what matters to you. It requires a dynamic interchange between the being and doing phases. Each stage of life requires that you Notice or Witness the world around you and how things work, then Act or Perform according to your instincts, capacity and values.

HOW: Learning to Be and Do are among the most fundamental traits of living things, so it seems foolish that we’d need to learn better how to master them. Yet most of us preference one over the other.

If you’ve mastered the art of Being, perhaps through meditation or other contemplative practices, or just naturally, maybe you want to gain some tactics to move into more actionable Doing states. You might try adding regular physical activity like weight-lifting or other more strenuous sports that utilize your full body to increase the life force available to you. Gaining body awareness by witnessing what emotions and energy move through you will help you move out the trauma and be more prepared to take action. Explore Philip Shepherd’s Radical Wholeness to learn more about your body’s narrative, or Healing Trauma by Peter Levine to explore means to resolve the inner wounds. To incorporate new habits into your life to move into action, try James Clear’s Atomic Habits. To bring new habits to work, explore Jennifer Harvey Berger’s Simple Habits for Complex Times or Show Your Work! By Austin Kleon.

If you’re a regular Doer who lives in an action orientation, and desire to enhance your Being capacity, practice being present, focused and observant. Create stillness and space. Allow life to emerge before you. Try A.H. Almaas’ The Unfolding Now or Dan Siegel’s Aware for a cutting-edge approach to the practice of presence, Rick Hanson’s Buddha’s Brain to apply neuroscience to strengthen brains states for more space, or brain entrainment activities to promote optimal brain states to move from beta brain waves to alpha or theta states to promote calm, stillness. Try Jody Hatton’s brain entrainment youtube channel. Or try more flow-oriented activity like yoga (especially the restorative or yin yoga), meditation or other contemplative practices. Spending time in nature is a significant way to learn how to Be.

Other articles in this series can be found here:

Why Paradox is Essential Now: How to Be Free at Last

The Paradox of Purpose #1: How to Find Your Way Forward Even While Lost

The Paradox of Purpose #2: Loving the Questions, Living the Answers

Recent Blog Posts

About The Author

Dr. Holly Woods is the Author of the #1 Bestseller, The Golden Thread: Where to Find Purpose in the Stages of Your Life. Read it, you’ll never again think your life doesn’t matter. Holly is a purpose activator. She believes that touching the spark of your soul lights you up so much that you alter the world just by being in it. Holly earned a PhD in Human & Organizational Development, is certified as an Integral Master Coach®, Purpose Guide®, Professional Mediator and Facilitator, Master Energy Practitioner, and is a Stages of Consciousness developmental practitioner. Learn about Holly’s work at Emergence Institute. You can schedule a 30 minute Strategy session with Holly.

Emergence Institute

Holly Woods, PhD

ⓒ 2020 Emergence Institute