Note: This is the question. Check out the answer.
It’s frustrating, often gut-wrenching, potentially embarrassing and always disappointing.
If you’re alive, you’ve probably failed.
You probably didn’t like it.
It probably seemed like a pretty shitty experience at the time.
You probably felt like a loser.
Welcome to the club.
You’ve no doubt heard well intentioned rhetoric about failure as a stepping stone. Sadly, it’s become a cheap cliché. Easy to pay lip service to, but much harder to actually live when it means being scared or humbled all over again.
Admitting failure can be tough too. It’s scary to lay it all out, plain as day, how much and how often you’ve fallen short. How thoroughly inept or inadequate you’ve felt. Intellectually we know (or are told) it’s part of a process, but it can still land a pretty devastating blow on your self esteem.
Of course the devastation is self-inflicted. In order to judge ourselves inadequate we’ve first got to have some preconceived notion of what adequacy looks like. It’s the preconceptions which are faulty not our capabilities. It’s the expectations we should question, not our innate worthiness as human beings.
I know the preconceptions are faulty because it turns out there’s actually a very strong correlation between suckage and awesomeness. I was genuinely awed, and even comforted this week to learn how much failure Derek Sivers had weathered in a single year. Is it any coincidence that his successes are equally epic?
Makes sense. Anything worth doing means stretching well beyond your present capability, and that means—for a time at least—you’re going to suck at it. That’s okay. And it has to be, because it’s pretty much a law of the universe.
Earlier Emilie asked me to contribute a story to her compilation of spectacular, life-shattering failures. And, ironically, I kind of failed at it. I contributed some abstract, general thoughts on failure while cleverly avoiding telling a personal story. Thought I’d rectify that.
So, here’s my glorious (if somewhat abridged) history of humiliating failures. Don’t judge em, celebrate em.
Failing Spectacularly since 1982
|1982||Three weeks late being born (already behind schedule).|
|1980s–90s||Struggle with social phobias throughout formative years.|
|1994||Develop a crush on a girl in my 6th grade class and change my choice of high-school just so I can to see her again. Then never approach or speak to her about it.|
|1995||Mortified during a piano Eisteddford when minutes before competing, realize the fly on my pants is broken causing them to perpetually fall down when I walk. Too embarrassed to even mention this to anyone, I do my best to look natural while hobbling on stage without bending my knees, perform in a cold sweat and disappear as quickly as possible.|
|1996||High School concert goes awry with singers straining their voices and giving me desperate looks half way between “help me” and “what the fuck are you doing?” Realize I’ve started playing in the wrong key and the number completely breaks down.|
|1997||Continue pattern of low self esteem and social awkwardness at every opportunity over next six years. Repeatedly crushed or embarrassed in interactions with the opposite sex due to not knowing the first thing about dating—or relationships in general for that matter.|
|1998||Suffer further performance anxiety during another competitive recital where 10 months of suffering through Rachmaninoff ends in cold sweats, frozen hands and a horrific wreck. Judge’s comment is ‘never play faster than you can think’.|
|1999||First time singing in college musical. Just awful.|
|1999||Allow an obsession over an unrequited love to darken my entire college life. Sink into self-indulgent spiral of unworthiness and manage to alienate all my closest friends. Barely speak with them for next 10 years.|
|2000||Develop a phobia of social gatherings. Become socially recluse. Avoid my class yearbook photo, college formal and other social venues.|
|2001||First real girlfriend dumps me after three months and takes up with an actor from the show I am music-directing. Spend as much time feeling sorry for myself as I did in the relationship.|
|2001||Consistently overreach and fall-short in my study of classical piano. Inspired by Liszt’s second Hungarian Rhapsody but fail to master it. Sustain RSI through a demanding practice regime that’s never fully corrected. Continually overshadowed by Chinese genius-kids with overbearing parents and super-human powers of concentration.|
|2002||Form a band and write several inspired songs but am too shy to perform them in public. We practice for several months but never do a real gig.|
|2002||First attempt at directing / producing a stage play (which I also wrote). Nearly catatonic with anxiety before the first performance having never managed a single rehearsal with the entire cast and crew.|
|2003||Again play the romantic fool for a new love interest by sending her a lavish bouquet of flowers and a card reading ‘from your secret admirer’, latter walking around in a t-shirt emblazoned with ‘I am your secret admirer’ (and her name). Should have picked a muse without a boyfriend. Awkward.|
|2003||Realize that I’m miserable in the 9 to 5 and that I’d be better off going to a performance arts school. Since the auditions are 2 weeks away, I cram for 3 of them at once and suck on all counts. Now I’m depressed, and a failure.|
|2003||Quit my dead-end job to go and make something of my life only to take it back again weeks later when the CEO woos me with his grand plans for the future. Hanging on just leads to despondency.|
|2004||Unable to have a real heart-to-heart with my dad; even as he lies on his deathbed. The emotional wall between us is too much.|
|2004||Yet another romantic misadventure is over before it’s started.|
|2004||Compose and produce music for a show, but find, minutes before opening, that the entire program of sound and music has somehow corrupted and has to be reprogrammed. I’m a little tense.|
|2004||Compose and produce music for another show but a bug in the sampler deck causes a track to cut out in the middle of a live performance. Here’s the original track.|
|2004||I suck at balancing levels without foldback monitors and get hammered in the review for playing everything too loud.|
|2005||Emotionally burned out, turn to a corporate path thinking it will provide a more practical track to success. Eventually just grow to resent it.|
|2006||Having finally found a girl who loves me to bits, I break her heart by sleeping with someone else.|
|2007||Spent capital and six months of humid evenings toiling in a barren, Bangkok apartment on a software product idea. Released a half-baked, buggy demo and then never promote or updated it.|
|2008||Run out of cash when my only consulting client decides to cut funding to product development; fly back to Australia on borrowed money to look for a new job.|
|2008||Land a plum management gig but quickly discover that producing work and managing people to produce said work are entirely different skills. Also discover why most managers seem to be idiots.|
|2009||Spend nine months building another software product which received widespread interest and praise and then lost interest and abandoned it without figuring out how to monazite.|
|2010||After spending three and a half years, countless hours and tens of thousands of dollars earning a masters degree in a technical field, realize I have no use for it and I should have invested everything in entrepreneurship instead.|
|2011||Only published a single blog post for the entire month of March. Exactly 5 words in length.|
Also, I’ve let fear hold me back from things I really wanted to do, I’ve made important decisions and commitments based on pleasing others rather than living my truth, and I’ve never filed a single tax return on time.
So: think your suckage can hold a candle to mine? I very much doubt that but if you’re feeling foolhardy you’re welcome to tender your candidature by leaving a comment
Tweet this post and join the suck-club. Don’t forget the hashtag #failweek