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Posts Tagged ‘failure’

Let’s talk about failing.

Remember Adam Baker, producer of the documentary I’m Fine, Thanks? (The movie, incidentally, has now reached its funding goals, hooray!) He had this to say about how people overcome falling into complacency:

“They started to become comfortable being able to fail. I don’t mean they LIKED failing. Or even tried to fail. But they were o.k. with that being part of the process. Often, the desire NOT to fail was what kept people trapped for decades!”

How often do we hold ourselves back because we’re afraid to fail? Maybe people won’t like our final product (or us, heaven forbid). Maybe people will say no to us. Maybe people won’t buy our book, or listen to our songs, or even know we exist, even when we’ve given it our best shot. Maybe we’ll sound stupid. Maybe we’ll realize a major flaw only after our idea/plan/creative work has already been made public. Maybe maybe maybe.

So in order to protect ourselves from all those maybes, those things that might happen in the future, we fail before we even start, by not allowing ourselves to start (or finish). In this way we can preserve some illusion of perfection, of possibility, of “I could have done this if I’d really wanted to.” Some of us have been taught that failure is an unacceptable and unendurable sort of experience, and thus, we protect ourselves from the imagined agony it will cause.

Except. Failure only has the power over us that we grant it. Failure only causes us agonies if we allow it to do so. When we reframe failure to be okay, to be a learning experience, perhaps even a way of being able to tell that we’re saying yes to our own potential, then it loses its power to wound so deeply.

Even in the hero’s journey, the hero fails before succeeding.

“Boldness is genius.” I read this post by Sarah Peck recently, and it suits my current frame of mind (I even gave a spirited live reading of it, which I wish I had video of so we could laugh about it together). I’ve been trying to be more bold lately. And you know what has mostly happened?

I’ve failed. A lot more than usual. Things have fallen through. People have told me no. Vast quantities of uncertainty have wrapped their tendrils throughout my life. I’ve miscalculated the risks involved. I’ve been disappointed and frustrated. Sometimes I have a sensation not unlike banging my head repeatedly against a hard object.

But you know what? Failure? It’s not so bad. I haven’t disintegrated into a pile of green goo. My sense of self worth still exists. Sure, I don’t particularly enjoy being disappointed or frustrated, but I’m pretty sure I’d feel those emotions no matter what, and this way I’m not giving them power over me in the same way. I feel frustrated? Let’s try something new, take a break from whatever is getting under my skin. I feel disappointed? I’ll only dwell on it until I try the next thing. And if I’m being bold, that means I’m trying the next new thing a lot sooner.

The idea that failure always equals disaster is just plain wrong. Boldness IS genius. Comfort with failure unlocks many doors. And allowing ourselves to separate from all those crippling maybes is freedom.

How are you going to be bold this week?

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What subjects do you avoid? What don’t you like to admit? What topics do you not talk about because they feel somehow inappropriate?

Theodora Goss’s recent blog post Telling the Truthis an excellent and thought-provoking essay well worth a read: “And this got me thinking about all the things we don’t talk about,” she says. “There are so many of them!”I think a lot about all the things we don’t talk about. In fact, that was one of the reasons I wanted to start a blog, because I wanted to have a platform from which to speak about some of these things. But of course, I still carefully write around so many of these things of which we never speak.

I recently spoke to a friend of mine who revealed that he used to have crushes on girls starting in third grade. He had never told anyone else about this because he was embarrassed because he thought it was out of the ordinary. Can you imagine? I had crushes in elementary school, and some people in my classes even had “boyfriends” and “girlfriends” (although of course it meant something slightly different back then). But you know what? I never talked about my crushes. And apparently no one else talked about them to my friend either, so he’s spent all this time secretly thinking that he’s different, that something was wrong with him, because he failed to pick up the social cues that would have informed him that crushes aren’t so unusual after all.

I wonder how many things we are all secretly embarrassed about or ashamed of that are, in reality, very common. Only we never find this out because we’re all busy feeling like outsiders together.

I think many of us are ashamed of failure, like Dora says in her essay. I know I am, and being a perfectionist doesn’t help out with this. And yet, failure is essential for those of us with ambitious dreams. Most people don’t succeed with huge dreams right away. I listened to an interview with Seth Godin the other day in which he bemoaned how afraid so many people are of failure. This fear holds us back. It makes us unwilling to take the risks we need to take to learn, to grow, and to achieve something truly great. And yet, even though I understand the need for failure intellectually, it doesn’t take away the fear.

But on the other hand, the more I fail, the more I know that I am living an interesting and daring life. Failure is taking your life and seeing what you can wring from it instead of coasting along and choosing the safest route. Failure is pursuing lofty goals and pushing back against the fear. Failure is exposing yourself to the world and teaching yourself to believe in the you of possibilities instead of the you of limitations. Failure is the strength to believe in yourself so much that you can rise above your worries (or the reality) of what other people think about you.

Failure is saying, “This is my life, and I’m going to make every inch of it mine.”
Maybe if we can reclaim failure, it won’t be so scary after all. Or at least maybe it can become a badge of courage instead of one of shame.

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