Imagine a world in which failure was not a terrible event. A place in which mistakes were valued, obstacles were short-lived barriers and questions were endless. Perhaps an environment where we had nine lives, like a cat. This place is where we would explore and learn from our experiences. It would be a world in which failures could constitute success. When I think about “success stories” or successful leaders, it’s the story, the journey that is often highlighted. How did they do it? What were the circumstance, the experiences, and the process that made it possible to accomplish their goal?
After all, at one point or another, we are all bound to fail. I don’t intend to present a pessimistic viewpoint, but rather an optimistic understanding of failure. In fact, what separates leaders and others is those who let failure take over and those who work even harder after they’ve failed. I realized this in an unexpected environment. At the edge of a bridge, overlooking one of the most magnificent sites I had ever seen: Iguazu Falls in Argentina.
Imagine a place isolated from society. What you hear is a chorus of birds. You can feel the breeze and see trees swaying back and forth. Rich, green leaves moving back and forth to create a small force. It’s not too chilly. There is no need for you to pull a sweater out of your backpack. The sun takes care of the warmth. It’s beaming and glowing. So bright and always present. The rays of sun pass through the holes of the branches of tress. You think to yourself, how can this be real?
As you proceed to the main attraction, you observe how the water has a brown and red tint from the minerals. It’s as calm as bath water. Then as time goes on it begins to get rougher and a little choppy. Finally you arrive at the first stop to see the falls. You begin to walk down a path that acts as a bridge. There are times when you question your safety.
Maybe it’s the questionable construction of the bridge or the vast number of people walking on it at the same time. Then you think, “it’ll be okay. Many people have walked this path before. I’m going to be okay.” You start to wonder how soon you’ll see the falls. The view is rather stunning. Huge trees covered in leaves surround the bridge area. You’re able to look out at the river and take in its beauty. On your journey you begin to hear sounds. It’s a sign you’re getting close. You begin to see huge clouds in the sky.
But soon realize that these aren’t clouds but actually mists coming from the falls. Consider the way a bomb explodes and takes over the purity of the air. Think about the same thing happening but with a cloud of water and mist. This is all you see on the bridge. Promising isn’t it? You finally get to the end of the bridge and Bam! The beauty is everywhere. An insane amount of water is pouring over so quickly that it looks like it’s moving in slow motion.
This particular section is called the “Devil’s Throat.” One slip on a banana peel and you’re the devil’s next meal. Nonetheless, you don’t let the panic ruin your experience. How could you when nature’s freshness fills the air? In this environment, you could never imagine how we could pollute this world. You look at the falls and wonder how this got to Earth. It’s a crushing sound that never stops and a sight that never fails to meet your expectations. It’s absolutely stunning. Rainbows appear. The most vivid rainbow you’ve ever seen.
The red is as bold as blood, orange is brighter than the fruit, yellow matches the sun, green is as dark as healthy grass, blue like in the middle of the ocean, and purple like a field of lavender combined with plums. This rainbow is also a full circle. You probably always thought there is a pot of gold at the end of each rainbow… maybe there is but you now see that a rainbow has no end. Its colors are reflected in some parts of the water. Then slowly, you see another rainbow appear behind the original one. It’s incredible; so pure and untouched, so clean and unharmed, so beautiful and perfect.
It occurred to me at that point that what I had just experienced was a walk through someone’s living hell into heaven. I embarked on a journey from a deathly forceful waterfall into magical, mystical surroundings. If nature is able to coexist and produce something like this, then it should allow humans to understand how our own nature allows a similar process. In this way I came to build a foundation for a belief I hold dear.
Namely, how a leader may be recognized for their success, but it’s the mistake and failure that makes them recognizable. In order to reach success it’s likely that mistakes, rainy days, failures and obstacles will be part of it. Ultimately, a rainbow is the product of sunshine (the good, positive and successful) and rain (seen as bad, negative and disappointment). Without the condition of a “sad, bad rainy” day, then the rainbow is not possible. A lack of optimism in the sun coming out, also erases the possibility of a rainbow.
Finally, we can see how a rainbow is mutually constituted in the good and the bad, in the happy and the sad, in failure and success. Essentially when you see a rainbow – someone’s success story – reflect on how there may have been a few rainy days that contributed to the magnificent site you now see. The ones who are able to “produce a rainbow” are the ones who danced in the rain and celebrated those cloudy days. If today there is an overarching shower from the sky, remember that your rainbow, your success, is likely to arise from conditions such as these.