How I've Failed at Stuff, and Why it's Matterful
We are all big fucking failures. Abraham Lincoln was a failure, Britney Spears was a failure, even Jesus was a failure. And yes, believe it or not I am also a failure.
What I’m about to preach on is not a new concept by any means, and I’m sure you’re waiting to see if I could possibly shed any more light on a subject that has already been beaten to death. The concept is the essence of quotes like “Fail faster, succeed faster” or Edison’s famous “I haven’t failed 1000 times, I’ve merely discovered 1000 methods that do not work”. The idea is that one succeeds by process of elimination, which I am willing to get on board with to some extent. What I take issue with is the simplicity with which many claim to overcome failure.
The people who spew the above mantras have an inert ability to let rejection roll off like water on a duck’s back. But is it really inert? Methinks not. For many I believe it was an accidentally learned skill, and for others I believe it can be learned consciously and on purpose. Let’s look at my life shall we? And let’s do it in bullet points for aesthetic appeal :-)
- I was expelled in first grade for inappropriate touching.
- Societal fail
- I was always small for my age in elementary school, but I demanded to play soccer with my grade group.
- Sports fail
- In 4th grade I asked every girl I knew to be my girlfriend. Not a one took me up.
- Love fail
- In middle school I cheated on a placement test and wound up in a far too advanced math class.
- Academic fail
- Forgot to clear my browser history on the family computer once…mom found out what I was really doing after school.
- Good son fail
- In high school I was asked to play the national anthem on my trumpet for a University of Arizona swim-meet. Thought I could just wing it. Oooof.
- Music fail (in front of 500+ spectators)
- Dropped out of high school senior year…3 times…re-enrolled and barely scraped by.
- Priority fail
- Dropped out of college 2 after just two weeks of classes, just in time for my tuition to be non-refundable.
- Responsibility fail
- First year freelancing. I didn’t wanna pay quarterly taxes as a 1099 contractor. Discovered at year’s end that you kinda have to…
- Financial fail
- Worked more years than I should have in an “ethically challenged” work environment because the money was good.
- Morality fail
So, do these failures get me closer to success? No. Not per the situation at least. What I do believe in is the law of tolerance. It is clear to me that each time I fail and the world does not in fact end, two things happen:
- The weight I place on the idea of failure lessens.
- I become more comfortable taking bigger risks.
It’s not about faith, it’s not about confidence, it’s a purely an experiential building of tolerance. Many failures reduces the fear of future failure and the amount of pain each brings. They cease to be crippling or paralytic, and as a result we can say to ourselves “Let’s try a larger leap next time!”
Now the question becomes: "How do I familiarize myself with failure in a non-permanently-damaging way, so that I can build this tolerance and move forward?" I’d recommend checking 100 Days of Rejection Therapy by Jia Jang. It should give you a decent dose of creative failure experiments, and at the very least a good chuckle.
Success is not part of the equation. Is is only the result of continued action. My only hope of success is in the reduction of my action-paralyzing tendencies. It does not create success, but it makes my path there a lot more enjoyable…and since success is a path in and of itself…I think this might be a truer answer than I realize.
We shall see!