Review: Sarah Lewis' "The Rise"

There are a ton of books out right now about failure. In fact, two folks very close to my normal circles wrote books about failure and church leadership. These would have been obvious choices for me, however, I've really been trying to stretch my self beyond the obvious choices. That's why I was super excited to see Sarah Lewis on a Ted Talk dropping crazy knowledge about failure.  


Sarah Lewis has a tremendously different life experience than I have and her knowledge base is far outside of my everyday world.  She is an art curator, a Harvard professor, and served in Obama's Art Policy Committee. Throughout her book she uses stories, metaphors, and context from stuff I've never even heard of before. And I loved it!

Thanks to Googling while reading I was able to see the art she speaks of in the book and get background to masterpieces I've heard of but not really understood.  Not only did I learn about failure, I also expanded my reading list in odd and new directions. 

Here are 4 moments that Sarah Lewis blew my mind while reading "The Rise"...

See how young and hip I look.

#1 Failure conceptually is problematic right from the start.

The word "failure" came from the banking industry in the early nineteenth century. In that context it was a term used in bankruptcy to describe a finite and linear conclusion. I think that's why it is so rough to translate it into everyday human life which is by nature fluid. Lewis likes to talk instead about mastery and the endless pursuit of knowledge.

Masters are not experts because they take a subject to its conceptual end. They are masters because they realize that there isn't one. pg. 33

In the Ted Talk and the book she introduces the Dunning-Kruger effect; "the greater our proficiency, the more clearly we recognize the possibilities of our limitation." This truth is why it is so hard for me to call my self a coach, trainer, or expert. I still haven't found a word that I like because in every setting I am always learning and learning how much I need to learn. Lately, I've been playing with "co-learner" because the more I know the more I am aware of the limits my knowledge. 

The Dunning-Kruger effect strips failure of all it's finality. It is merely one of the many points on a never ending journey toward mastery. The more we fail the more we recognize how far away mastery becomes. Ironically, as we fail toward mastery the outside world starts to claim our failures in the exact opposite light. After all a masters failure is still unachievable by a novice. 

#2 Nothing achieved is done so with out pain and loss. 

Again with the cliches! But damn it if they aren't true. Lewis shares a story of MLK developing a hiccup or tic when he spoke. It was so bad that he actually got a C in his oratory class in seminary.  Which made me feel way better because I got an A+ in that class....take that MLK!  Anyways; King later told folks that, "Once I made peace with death, I could make my peace with all else." Confronting his own mortality ultimately made his tic disappear. 

It's that simple....right?

Lewis uses this story to talk about each failure as a mini death that must be grieved and incorporated into self. It is pain that shapes the leaders we hope to become and like King the best way forward is not to run from, but to embrace the fear that blocks us from being our best self. 

#3 Failure and Conflict are pretty much the same thing.

One of my favorite ways to approach conflict is to describe it as a gap between what we are currently experiencing and what we want. I was introduced to this from Leading Out of Drama and use this tool as a trainer. It always surprises me how difficult it is for people to name what they want. Lewis argues that often the problem is that they can't "picture" it.  

Apparently, this was the same technique that Fredrick Douglas used to motivate the north toward a new vision. 

On the eve of Emancipation, eliminating the line between liberty and slavery by law, the nation was focused on another kind of justice that no law could correct -- the ability to reconcile your dream with reality. pg. 93

Failure can rob us of our Aesthetic, or ability to have vision. Like dreaming without permission we imagine the ideal as too distant, too difficult to achieve, or too different than our current reality. Negative conflict does the same. It convinces us that the way things are; is the only way. In Leading Out of Drama we claim that conflict as energy and make strategies to struggle toward a new desired outcome. Lewis describes failure in the same way. By visualizing the reality now and the one hoped for we start to piece together a journey of transformation. 

#4 Failure is "0".

In the final pages of her book Lewis describes failure as the number zero. "It is both the void and the beginning." The simplicity and beauty of that statement sums it up. I think everyday we have the choice to see that zero and do something with it...or not. 

"It is cliche to say simply that we learn most from failure. Transformation comes from how we choose to speak about it in the context of story." pg 13

Over the next couple months I am going to share several post all under the category: Free to Fail. Failing is one of the fears I am struggling with while launching this website; so I figured I would head it off early by obsessively reading and writing about it. Here is what you can expect

  1. August 1: Fighting with Dragons.
  2. August 8: Success is My Biggest Failure
  3. August 16: White Male Failing
  4. August 23: 3 Real Life Super Embarrassing Failures
  5. August 30: Book Review: Rise by Sarah Lewis
  6. Sept. 6: Crushing the Second Attempt
  7. Sept. 13: Shame Shame Go Away, Come Again...Never
  8. Sept. 20: Never Too Late for Now
  9. Sept. 27: The Irregular Webinar; Free To Fail

Each post will show up on Wednesdays. On Friday the post will be followed by a Tune In Tip. These weekly tips will share a practice you can try in real life. Finally the whole series will end with a webinar where we can discuss the topic in real time.

Sign up here to follow along!

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