I considered calling this post Falling Short, to soften the blow. But instead decided to go balls to the wall with what I really mean. Failure. How can I stop being afraid of it if I can’t even stop being afraid to say it?
Dylan said, “There’s no success like failure, and failure’s no success at all.” Whatever that means. But I like the sound of it. I feel there is a potential there that I, with my paralytic fear of failure, can’t quite grasp. My dad says your successes can’t exceed 25% of your failures, so get out there and fuck up! (paraphrased) That’s a little more straight forward.
Erica from NW Edibles recently outed the naked, cold fact that they are spending $2,000 to have a chicken coop built for them. Wow, brave girl. I would have hidden that one under my bed for sure. In a locked box. That’s what they invented lies for, Erica.
I’m not mentioning Erica because I think their $2,000 chicken coop represents failure. Please don’t misunderstand! It’s dangerous ground we tread here. But she lays bare her feelings of falling short of that shiny Urban Homesteader Ideal, and I know just what she means. I know how life can lead you on a crazy circuitous path, which cannot be traveled backwards, and then deposit you *BAM* where you least expected to end up. Picking yourself up, dusting off and finding a way to keep on is the stuff of saints as far as I’m concerned. Or beetles.
Myself, when fear of failure or the associated guilt of transgression hits, I can sometimes be completely incapacitated. I’ve abandoned many a project when the first failures start rolling in, or even just because failure lurked around the next bend. And that ain’t no good, no how.
Maybe it’s just me. One of my little Issues. But I’ve been fascinated by my crippling fear of failure and it’s many reprecussions throughout my life.
Long, loooong ago, when I worked as a “handler” for a dog musher back in Alaska, it was my job to run the dogs every day. Riding a dog sled, particularly on a low snow winter like that one was, is a skill that took me months to even get an edge on. I had a little epiphany on one of the many occasions that I was being dragged behind the tipped over sled (never, never let go of the sled), face down over the fast moving snow. I realized that when the sled went round a corner, I needed to lean in to the curve. But instead my fear of the speed made me lean outward, in a visceral desire to abandon the sled. Leaning out on a curve tips the sled over. Simple physics.
I don’t believe, as some do, that your thoughts somehow energistically manifest into your life to create what you want or fear. But my sled epiphany made me see how fear drives me to act in a certain way, a fearful way, that sometimes causes the very thing I fear to happen. It’s not magic, it’s logic. With a heavy dose of irony.
In addition to the negative of sabotaging our efforts, there’s a big, important positive to failure. Nothing is more instructive. Imagine if you refused to let your kid play with pen and paper until they could write a perfect ‘A.’ Obviously kids have to practice a lot before they learn to write, and ‘practice’ means fucking around with a pen and paper. Each distinct failure teaches us so many, many things that simple success can never offer.
The trick to abolishing our fear of failure and embracing it instead as our benificent teacher (a trick that I have failed to learn as of yet) is not to let our every action define us. Isn’t that what I strive to teach my kids? You may do a mean thing to a friend, that doesn’t make you a mean person. You may fail to consume all the cases of marmalade you so eagerly sliced, cooked and canned last year and instead have to dump them down the drain to free the jars for other purposes (ahem) but that does not mean you are a failure.
Another point which must be sharpened is that a lot of what we perceive as “failure” is actually only failure to live up to an impossible fantasy of perfection. Take Erica and her coop. Some part of her might feel that she has failed to be the uber-cool urban homesteader who does everything herself on a shoestring budget. But in fact, all she has done is prioritize her time. There’s a limited quantity of it, don’t you know.
Actually you might not know. I’m not sure whether I really do. The capitalist system and our unleashed advertising industry has worked very hard to make us believe that there are no such limits. This is really a whole post of it’s own that has lay dormant in my mind for months. I believe it affects every aspect of our lives and I have much too much to say about it. But, relevant to this subject, they saturate us with the unspoken premise that there are no limits, no need to choose priorities, you can have it all! (just sign here).
There follows a seemingly reasonable equation: If ‘all’ is possible, and I can’t achieve ‘all,’ I failed.
I assure you, it’s the equation that’s at fault!
Even though I understand this well with my intellect, that deeper core of my brain that advertising plugs straight into still Believes. And suffers the all the guilt, shame, and fear.
It’s really a lot of what this blog has ended up being about for me. Confronting the impossible expectations we are suffused with. Attempting to slowly erase the 33 years (and counting) of culture telling me I can and should have it all. Teasing out the important bits from the hectic hairball of modern life, making my priorities, and fighting back the scaly beasts of disillusionment, guilt and failure.
Back to the cave with you, foul creatures!