temporary-stop

Rethinking failure

In a recent post, Chuck Wendig encourages writers to “fail without fear.”

We don’t learn a lot through success by itself. That sounds strange, but it’s true. I throw a basketball at a hoop and – swish — first time in? I don’t know what the hell I did. But I get one shot in and nine missed, I start to see how I can do that better. And suddenly, I start making more baskets. We make sense of our efforts through failure.

Failure is a word/concept that I think many of us are afraid of — but what if we just thought of it as a code word for rough drafts and imperfection? What if failure became a temporary stop on the road to success, instead of a final destination?

The other day, I had to get something engraved. (A trophy for Andy’s fantasy football league. Yes, they are that dorky about it.) I ran around town looking for a shop that would do this little one-off job, and finally found a really nice guy who was happy to take care of it right away. While he set up the machine, we made small talk. When he learned that I was a halfie, he started spitting out Chinese phrases he had picked up during his time working with Asian doctors in a laboratory. Ni hao ma. Ji cao fan. Xie xie.

His pronunciation wasn’t great, but he didn’t care. He wanted to connect with me, and he wanted to be corrected. He wanted to learn and improve.

Meanwhile, when I go to Chinese restaurants, I’m embarrassed that I can’t order in my mother’s native tongue. When I meet Spanish-speakers, I always downplay my fluency, because I know I’m rusty and don’t want to look stupid.

But I didn’t think this guy was stupid at all. I thought he was brave. I admired his hunger for knowledge and experience. His wide-open spirit. His willingness to embrace imperfection and to fail without fear.

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3 Comments

  1. Wise words. We can’t let fear of failure stop us.

  2. I definitely agree that “failure” is where you learn. Bands develop more after bad gigs than good ones.

    But also “failure” is a judgment that people are sometimes too quick to declare. You really have to have some perspective to look back and figure out if something was even a failure at all.

    The Trial, by Kafka, is a major work of literature, but it was never published during his lifetime. In 1937, Hemingway wrote a dreadful book called To Have and Have Not, and then, in 1944. Howard Hawks (with assistance from Jules Furthman, William Faulkner, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall) turned it into a great movie (definitely in my all-time top ten). Firefly was the definition of a failed TV show, but it remains hugely popular and led to the movie Serenity.

    These days, for example, we’re trained to see how a movie performs on that first weekend as a definite thumbs-up or thumbs-down, but it’s not that simple

    • “But also ‘failure’ is a judgment that people are sometimes too quick to declare. You really have to have some perspective to look back and figure out if something was even a failure at all.”

      So, SO true! You’re absolutely right that people are too quick to judge success and failure. Especially in a world that changes as quickly as ours, it’s probably wise to take more of a “wait and see” approach.

      Plus, there’s something to be said for the long game, and letting things build up from “failure” TO success.

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