If asked to make a list of the events that have most shaped or defined our lives, chances are we wouldn’t mention the time we took that perfect vacation. Or the day we delivered the flawless presentation. Or the moment we were offered our dream promotion (at an even higher salary than we were expecting).

We probably wouldn’t list the time we took a big risk and it all turned out fine. Or the month we set a budget and stuck to it. Or the countless conversations we’ve had with bosses, spouses, friends and children in which we somehow managed to find the exact right words at the exact right time.

That’s because our most character-defining, course-changing, life-shaping experiences usually don’t look like success.

In fact, they often look a lot like failure: our marriage ending, our business failing, our home going into foreclosure, losing someone we love, getting rejected, being taken advantage of, saying the wrong thing, making a mistake.

No matter how counterintuitive it may be, it’s actually through our pain (not our joy) that we make our way in the world. It’s the mistakes that force us to confront what it is we really want. The missteps that motivate us to forge new paths. The struggles that remind us of who we really are, who we want to be, and what it will take to close the gap.

So today, friends— even as we chase down our own dreams of success, let us not lose sight of the fact that it is actually the failure that frees us. It is our greatest moments of weakness that most reveal our hidden strength. It is the suffering that makes it possible for us to recognize the joy. Today’s hilarious, inspiring and captivating stories are almost always born of yesterday’s devastating plot twist. Which goes to show that failure is so much more than just our worst fear realized— It is also our fuel.

It is both the flame and the foundation.

The devastation and the direction.

This is what it means to be human.
And perhaps, also, the most popular guest at a cocktail party.