I’ve been thinking about failure a lot lately. Failure to get more done during the week. Failure at having not gotten more done BEFORE the baby. Failure to not submit half as much fiction as I should have over the past ten years, despite having a hell of a lot more time, even *when* working full-time. Failure in the shape of persistent fiction rejections when I *do* submit. Failure to keep up with old friends. Failure to step out of my comfort zone to make new ones. Failure at not being as far along in my career as I’d like to be. The list goes on and on inside my head.
And recently, even the NY Times Magazine had a whole issue on failures, and my mother shared another newsletter from her spiritual community which also talked about failure. Those last two, though, took a different look at what failure is and what it means. One thing in particular stuck out to me with particular force in the newsletter: While Babe Ruth held the world record for home runs, he also held the world record for strike-outs. When he swung at the ball, he swung hard–and didn’t always make it. Look at Hershey, even: who repeatedly failed and went bankrupt at least once in trying to set up his own candy company. Or the employee who brought him the idea for Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups, to which Hershey said no, he didn’t want to make them, but at least graciously allowed the guy to use his suppliers to make them on his own. They’re now the #1 best-selling Hershey’s product, all thanks to Reece who didn’t give up when his boss said it was a stupid idea.
Failure is inevitable, especially if you want to be good at anything. Rejections are a part of writing, and that’s something I’ve come to recognize and accept–even embrace–over the years. But in my everyday life, failure haunts me. The guilt of not doing X or not being as good of a mother/human as Y–because s/he can do so much more than me and STILL raise her/his young child, so who am I to complain that I don’t have time?–overwhelms me and robs me of some enjoyment of an otherwise very happy time in my life.
In some ways, I can even feel guilty about being happy, because of all the other stressors piled up on my back. How dare I be happy? Don’t I realize it could get WORSE, and that I better start worrying now so I’m prepared for it?
How messed up is that?
One of the things I’m only beginning to understand now is how to let go and forgive myself when I’m not as accomplished/talented/productive/fiscally viable as I’d like to be. The idea that “failure is only a failure if you don’t pick yourself back up” is very comforting during times like this. And the guilt is just a bunch of wasted thought depriving me of otherwise good days. I don’t have time for that.
Every day, I’m finding new ways to get a little more done. Every day, I’m getting a little better at learning how to juggle keeping the Little Guy happy and entertained, while *also* accomplishing things I need to get done. Every day, it’s getting a little easier.
So why guilt myself when I’m actually taking the baby-steps I need to get where I want to go? There’s something to be said about bite-sized progress and meeting smaller, more accomplishable goals. In fact, I’ve even started setting 2-3 medium-sized goals a week to try to achieve, and so far, have managed to hit them almost every week. I can’t write a novella in a week, but with dedication and patience, maybe I can write a solid 3k. I can’t clean up the entire apartment, but I can get the bathroom looking decent.
And I’m starting a small business, which I’m super excited about, even in as much as it stresses me out trying to get everything organized and think through every detail of its finances. One baby step at a time!
3 thoughts on “Thoughts on Failure”
Love this. Even very successful people know failure very well. It’s all a part of this life that makes us uniquely *us* — and there seems this huge stigma attached to failing. But it depends on what success really is. To build a life filled with people you love and who love you, to be a responsible parent and spouse, to be a member of a community, and to be working so hard to do the meaningful things in life — that might be the true success.
Wise words, Martin! And definitely something to live by. :)