“Failure doesn’t define you. It’s what you do after you fail that determines whether you are a leader or a waste of perfectly good air.”
– Afya Ara-Nur, A Torch Against the Night
By Sabaa Tahir
One of the main characters, Laia, has quickly come to view the woman Afya Ara-Nur with a mixture of fear and respect. She is the only female tribal chief among her people, which speaks volumes about her intelligence, cunning, strength, ferocity, strength of will, courageous defiance of danger, etc. She carries herself with confidence, and she seems to always make the right decisions. Laia has put her on a bit a pedestal, really, thinking she must have never failed at anything in her life. Oh, how wrong she is, and Afya corrects that by telling her about one of her failures, among many. It was a great fiasco that cost her and her tribe quite a bit of coin, and she, too, felt weak beneath the weight of it. Then her father told her these words, as she now tells them to Laia.
Laia’s in severe need of this wisdom. Though she’s been smart and capable herself, things have gone so very, very wrong, worse than she could have ever feared. She’s not wise enough yet to know that even when you make the right decision, the best decision, even the perfect decision, things will go to crap anyway, and you will be left wondering if you made the wrong decision after all. In Laia’s case, she’s not only been plagued by doubt, but a wolf in sheep’s clothing has carefully nursed that self-doubt into a crushing depression, making her see everything that went wrong as somehow being her fault, directly, because she must have chosen wrong. She’s fallen, and been shoved down, and needs Afya to help her get back up.
And get back up she does.
What Laia learns is that failure is part of life. In fact, it’s part of nearly every endeavor. Almost nothing goes ideally right, not ever. Everybody gets knocked down. Everybody fails. It’s the choice to either stay down or get back up and try again that makes the difference. And it is a choice. We can’t wallow in our failures and expect someone else to pick us up, we have to get ourselves up. We have to choose to make the effort. That doesn’t mean we just keep trying the same old thing, though. In fact, failure would indicate the need to do something differently if we want to succeed this time.
Either way, the best guarantee for failure is to give up.
I like what she says about being a leader, though. Not to say that anyone who fails to get back up is a waste of air, but I do believe that people who pick themselves up, learn from their mistakes, and move forward again, those people are leaders. Not only does their example often inspire others to support them, but, really, if you’re going to lead anyone, you need to start by leading yourself. This is your life, and your purpose, so you make the choice to either give up or go on. For most people, that might be the full extent of their leadership role, ruling themselves instead of being ruled by others, or ruled by their failures, or, especially, ruled by their own worst qualities. But I’ve yet to meet one person worth following in any endeavor who was anything but a master of himself (or herself).
Leadership, like most everything else, begins at home, with yourself.
And intrinsic to that is learning to deal with being flawed, and sometimes a failure.