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The Art and Adventure of Leadership: Understanding Failure, Resilience and Success by Warren Bennis, Steven B. Sample, Rob Asghar

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ConclusionRedeeming Failure

We can always redeem the man who aspires and strives.

—Goethe

You will fail. And your failure may be fatal to your career, or at least to some particular avenue within that career.

And in that way, it will serve as the foundation for greater success.

Author and mythologist Joseph Campbell carefully and lovingly curated the guiding myths of many civilizations. As a result, he found the outlines of a monomyth, a hero's journey that recurs with some common themes in most cultures, involving a god, goddess, or mortal who undergoes trial and redemption. He would go on to argue that there is “a hero with a thousand faces,” who kept appearing in various guises in myths and religions spanning time and space.

Failure is at the core of the monomyth—which, as Campbell described it, had common themes across cultures, continents, and generations: departure, initiation, and return. It typically plays out as follows:

  1. A great (or potentially great) protagonist is sent to an otherworldly place or an underworld for an adventure. Often this is a place of exile, resulting from some moral failing or weakness of the hero. Often it is the result of the protagonist rejecting or refusing a call to duty.

    By this point, you certainly recognize that this exile is, of course, the hero's own personal crucible. A crucible is, by definition, a transformative experience through which an individual comes to a new or an altered sense of identity.

  2. While in exile, the hero typically ...

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