Lately, whenever I sit down to write, it’s usually to unpack something negative that happened to me during the week. Don’t get me wrong, I love to write when I feel electrified by inspiration. But failure has a perverse way of sticking to you like rotten caramel. It can hijack your mood – extinguish your spirit, and ruin your entire day. Even a single failure, when given the chance to bounce around your brain long enough, develops its own kind of… momentum. I find myself at times not “feeling” it, but rather falling INTO it.
If you are a perfectionist or someone who tends to be tougher on themselves, you definitely understand this feeling.
I feel as though the worst kind of failure is the failure that could’ve been avoided. It’s not just a failure, it’s abandoned success. Losing your train of thought mid-presentation in an important meeting, finding out mid-interview that your are drastically underqualified for a job – maybe it’s just one of those days that’s just made of of a million little stumbles – when you feel like your job is working you and not the other way around. Whatever it is, that failure can sometimes slip into the cracks of your confidence, seeping deeper down to insecurities, like some sort of diseased root system. Sometimes it manages to reach deep enough to touch completely unrelated insecurities (when things REALLY start to get overwhelming and confusing).
Before you know it you’re curled up in a ball on your bed or in the bathtub, trying your hardest to de-exist because of how much you’re internally kicking the shit out of yourself. It’s fear, it’s ego, it’s admitting you did not live up to your potential. In many ways I find that when I fail at something or in front of someone, I’m less upset about the simple fact that I missed the mark and much more upset over the fact that I let myself down. I could’ve handled that differently. I could have avoided that. I am better than this. It’s a snowball of embarrassment, anger, and self-resentment. And it feels like vinegar in my veins.
Typically, my writing naturally skews toward finding some kind of throughline – some kind of story that leads from the kernel of the inspiration to the popcorn of the lesson learned. Maybe it’s because that’s how my brain snakes and weaves its way through difficult-to-describe emotions. Maybe it’s because the phrase “overarching story” is more comfortable than “random series of fuck ups.” Either way I think it’s a search for meaning. The worst part? There isn’t always a meaning to search for. Then what do we do? Kick & scream? Mope & cry? Reflect & accept? Move on & prepare better next time? Probably all of it – not in any specific order. I think failure has a funny way of yanking us out of complacency and sending us careening back down the spectrum of our fear-based emotions – all the way to the bottom where we dust ourselves off, catch our breath, and start gingerly climbing back. More often than not, the climb back isn’t so bad. I’ve come to think of failure as a kind of “factory reset” for my ego.
If anything, I’m hopeful that repeated failure breeds a greater capacity for resilience. I remind myself this misstep doesn’t have to be a faceplant. I remind myself a “loss” is a moment in time and “lost” is a ongoing state of mind. I remind myself that sometimes even bellyflops can be funny as fuck.
Yes, there are certain failures that feel impossible to come back from – some failures, externally, may even be permanent. How are you supposed to erase failures that are written ink? Well, I don’t think we do. I think we’re supposed to turn the page and keep writing. I guess the ink won’t change, but before long it becomes just another chapter that lives behind you. Our miraculous ability to change ourselves and to grow means that nothing is ever truly permanent.