A friend of mine said that to me recently. It was a joke. Of course it was a joke. But in every good joke lies a kernel of truth.
Yeah, if you set the bar low enough, you’re bound to be able to get over it. If all you want from life is a hovel with a mattress, a travel radius of less than 50 miles, a minimum wage job that doesn’t challenge you, and a spouse that challenges you even less, then the odds are quite good that you’ll succeed.
And that is a form of success, I suppose, if you are happy. If you are content and have no regrets, then you are right up there at the summit of humanity. Congratulations.
But maybe we should stop focusing so much on succeeding. Humans seem to be obsessed with the concept. No one wants to be a loser.
I think, though, that epic fails are highly indicative of people who are trying the hardest. People who take risks are usually the ones who care the most. Sticking your neck out means you have a much better view of an expanded horizon. It also means you’ve learned. Oh, how you’ve learned.
I’m not suggesting that you should set the bar so high that you’ll never have a chance. We can’t all be king of the world. But stretch yourself. Dream bigger than you think you can or should. Take chances. Have adventures. Live.
The older I get, the less I view failure as the end of the world. Yeah, it’s depressing, or at the very least embarrassing, but I’ve been shown over and over again that things that might seem as though they are a catastrophe while they’re happening are generally happening for a very good reason.
Case in point, back in 2012 I got what turned out to be my third useless college degree, and then made absolutely no progress in trying to change my career. After literally hundreds of attempts to break into the field of Dental Laboratory Technology, I finally had to accept the fact that it just wasn’t going to happen.
It felt like a death. I went into a period of deep mourning for a future that I had been working toward for years that was never going to come to pass. It was like someone yanked the tablecloth out from under my feast.
Fast forward with me a couple of years as I fall down a flight of stairs. I did so much damage to my wrist that it required surgery, and I can tell you right now that there’s no possible way I would currently be able to do the fine repetitive movements required to fabricate dental appliances. So if that career had worked out, I wouldn’t have had it for long, and I’d have been in a world of financial trouble.
And it turns out that I managed to keep a job I love and find a way to actually do it and get a living wage plus benefits. So everything turned out exactly as it should have. My failure propelled me forward.
Thank GOD I failed. In retrospect, that failure is a cause for celebration. I am happier than I have ever been. So take heart! Failure is just another step in your journey, which will always be more complex and exciting than you can possibly imagine.
A friend of mine had been in a dark place for many, many years. He had been struggling with addiction, depression, and isolation. I had been worried about him for quite some time.
And then slowly, little by little, over the course of a year, I started to notice positive changes in him. He got healthier, happier, and began to interact more with people. It was delightful to see.
One day I took him out to lunch, which was in itself a monumental change. Generally he preferred not to leave the house, and therefore turned down all invitations. For a while there, he seemed to have an almost vampire-like aversion to sunlight.
“Okay,” I said over my hamburger, “what’s changed?” I knew he had been going to a 12 step program and seeing a counselor, but he’d tried that before, and it had never “taken”. I was dying to know what was different this time.
He then laid out his theory to me. It occurred to him one day that the thing that kept him paralyzed, kept him from even trying to get better, was fear of failure. But then he realized that if he tried and failed, he wouldn’t be any worse off than he was at that very moment. So he gave himself permission to fail. That meant all he needed to do was try, and that felt like a lot less pressure to him.
Sentimental old fool that I am, this actually brought tears to my eyes. Because I was so proud of my friend. Because his theory made so much sense to me. Because suddenly anything seemed possible.
My friend is a work in progress. Aren’t we all? But the most important thing is that he is, indeed, progressing.