The idea is to celebrate failure rather than shaming it, or simply reframing it as ‘feedback’, which too often feels like a halfhearted attempt at consolation. It may help to ease the disappointment but doesn’t necessarily encourage us to get back on the horse and eagerly go charging at the next impossible challenge.
I didn’t realise until later that I really glossed over that point in the original post; and, judging by the responses—this came over as a bit of a sob story. Not sure if it inspired courage so much as condolences. Not what I intended at all.
The point—the one I didn’t make the first time—is that failure (or anything else really) is a function of your focus on life. When you cherry pick the worst possible aspect of everything, pile it all together, highlight the low points, and put it under a microscope it comes off seeming like a pretty dismal situation. And no wonder.
Yet don’t we all do that to ourselves sometimes? When you’re stuck in depressing thoughts it’s difficult to see anything but. When you label yourself as a failure—you feel like one. It doesn’t matter what successes you’ve had or how much you’ve grown. You’re not acknowledging those things. You’re just looking at the low points. And that’s a distorted view of reality.
For every valley, there’s a peak.
Allow me to demonstrate…
|It Sucks When…||But Then Again…|
|Three weeks late being born (already behind schedule).||Hey, where’s the fire? May as well take advantage of a good thing while it lasts.|
|Struggle with social phobias throughout formative years.||Yeah, I was a shy kid; but despite that I still managed to get up in front of audiences and perform year after year. Courage win.|
|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.||What can I say? I was 12.|
|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.||In retrospect, this is frickin hilarious.|
|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.||It sounds bad but it was actually no big deal. We just started it over again right. Totally nailed my solo too.|
|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’.||Oh, I forgot to mention that I latter did master this and played the hell out of it on several subsequent occasions. Also scored a distinction on my PC exam. Yeah, bitches.|
|First time singing in college musical. Just awful.||Well, first time singing at all, actually. Felt the fear and did it anyway. Come to think of it that’s no failure at all; what am I talking about?|
|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.||One of the most painful things I’ve been through and it was entirely self inflicted. Hurt a lot. Grew a lot. As for my friends, we were simply growing apart. I made an all new group of friends which were much better for me and opened up a whole new world of opportunity.|
|Develop a phobia of social gatherings. Become socially recluse. Avoid my class yearbook photo, college formal and other social venues.||Okay, it wasn’t a phobia. I was just a bit of a loner. But with all my free time, I wrote a musical, won a territory award for excellence in performance arts, and landed a professional gig before I’d even graduated. So all in all, not a bad year.|
|First real girlfriend dumps me after three months and takes up with an actor from the show I am music-directing.||But not before I got freaky with her. Noice.|
|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.||Consistently reach high, sometimes fall short, but frequently knock it out of the park. The Chinese kids were freaks at the classical stuff. But I could play rings around them in any other genre. Crowd pleaser, oh yeah.|
|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.||But this didn’t feel like a failure at all. They were two of the most interesting, genuine people and musicians I’ve had the good fortune to jam with and we had an amazing time bonding and sharing our music. It didn’t matter that it was just for us.|
|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.||I was freaking out alright, but the thing went down without a hitch ’cause I had an awesome team and the show was actually a great success. And we raised money for charity. Woot.|
|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.||When you’re brave enough to even think of doing this, come and talk to me about failure.|
|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.||Actually, much of the time I really liked my job. I just realized it wasn’t going anywhere and I could do much more with my life. The important thing is I started taking action to change things. This was a beginning, not an end.|
|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.||But despondency lead to action, action lead to my own business, travel, better projects, exciting new opportunities, and more money than I’d ever made before. Thank you dissatisfaction.|
|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.||He was an intensely private guy who had trouble sharing that stuff. Somehow I understand him all the same. We didn’t talk about everything, but we connected in ways that will always be special.|
|Yet another romantic misadventure is over before it’s started.||After this I stop looking for a soul mate and just start looking to have fun. Wow—that works a whole lot better.|
|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.||And reprogram it I did. In 8 minutes flat. Booyah.|
|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.||
|I suck at balancing levels without foldback monitors and get hammered in the review for playing everything too loud.||Don’t know if you know anything about sound, but EVERYBODY sucks at that. That’s what foldback is for. I was successful in my goal of composing and producing music for a pro-theatre production. Just remember the sound check next time.|
|Emotionally burned out, turn to a corporate path thinking it will provide a more practical track to success. Eventually just grow to resent it.||But not for long. I got out of that game and had a blast doing my own thang.|
|Having finally found a girl who loves me to bits, I break her heart by sleeping with someone else.||Dumb choice. But we talked about it and were actually much closer after that. Honesty win.|
|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.||Threw something at the wall but it didn’t stick. Besides which I was pretty busy earning my masters, making money in my other business and cruising around Thailand for nine months. On balance a pretty good year.|
|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.||I borrowed money for the ticket so I could live off my savings ’til I got back on my feet. That happened pretty quickly. And I still do work for that client till this day.|
|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.||Had a steep learning curve here but figured it out, made some changes and delivered. This was exactly the thing I needed at the time.|
|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.||It was a labour of love; and a raging success in many ways. I can always pick it up again later if I want to.|
|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.||If I had that time over I might make different choices, but it would be wrong to say all that effort went to waste. I sharpened my skills, pushed myself to excel, and earned a distinction for my work. It was also a huge selling point for me landing development contracts. Big wins on all counts.|
|Only published a single blog post for the entire month of March. Exactly 5 words in length.||You want a novel? buy a book.|
So—I’m curious. Did this change your perspective on my story? Did it change your perspective on your own story? Are there things you’ve failed at that maybe weren’t failures after all? Are there times you hid from failure but wished you hadn’t? Here’s your opportunity to come clean.
So here’s the challenge again: have you fucked up pursuit of your best life? Good for you. ‘Cause, if you’re not giving yourself the opportunity to fail big, you’re not giving yourself the opportunity to win big.
And that’s just… sad, really.