Over the years Sir Anthony Hopkins has gifted us with many world class performances. While he currently seems to be more active than ever, he also has, being now 80 years old, an impressive career to look back on. When asked by Jimmy Kimmel to share his most notable life lesson Sir Hopkins goes on to explain: „The thing is, we get questions in our head and little voices that put us down […] so we need to get over that. I carry a photograph in my phone from when I was a little boy, and I look at him and I say: We did okay kid. We did okay.“
We all do worry a lot. Some believe that what differentiates us from animals is our ability to reason, our ability to self-reflect. But this very same ability, which got us so far, can become obsessive and harmful. When we ponder our future, this familiar dark voice sets in, elaborating on all the many ways things will go wrong. It is silent, almost not audible, but it sits there, poisoning our ambition, sometimes enough to choke it—rendering us inert.
But, when we start to look back on our life, these worries of failure can be put into perspective. I think no one can say of himself that his life has been a succession of successes only. Quite the opposite I would argue. Over the course of time, we’ve all experienced bad fortune. Plans that don’t work out, relationships that don’t last, mistakes that were made. This is what Hopkins is getting at. We survive, and after some time, things turn out to be pretty good again. More surprisingly, some of these adversities have made, in retrospect, a positive contribution to our life. As Nietzsche said: “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”
New opportunities arise, new relationships form and some compromises turn out to be pretty great. If we start to accept that failure is inevitable, a part of our life, even a part of our success, then we can slowly start to disarm our worries. Yes, that could happen, but I will get through it. Neither by fighting them nor by obsessive positive thinking can we overcome our fears, but by simply acknowledging them.
Me, you, and Sir Hopkins are luckily not the only people to have thought about this. The idea we are discussing can be found in many philosophies and traditions. Buddhists1, Stoics2 or philosophers like Nietzsche have all found the idea of acknowledging the fact that failure is part of the game to be very consoling.
So maybe, by carrying a little picture of yourself as a child, as Hopkins does, or by some other means, next time, when you’re facing a clouded head filled with worries, remind yourself that while these can all happen, you will be fine and that it is worth trying anyway.
Take, for example, the RAIN meditation for a practical application.↩
For instance, take Epictetus: “Do not seek for things to happen the way you want them to; rather, wish that what happens happen the way it happens: then you will be happy;“ or Marcus Aurelius: „Nothing befalls a man except what is in his nature to endure;“ or refer to „The Obstacle Is the Way“ by Ryan Holiday.↩