I believe in being willing to fail.
This probably sounds strange in a culture that places such a high premium on success, where the prevailing slogan is, “Failure is not an option.”
But I believe being willing to fail has to be an option. Not just because the old cliché about learning more from your mistakes is true – that’s why it’s a cliché – but because the only way to advance as a person, in your profession, in science and as a society is to take risks. And any time you take a risk, failure is right there beside you, waiting for its chance to pounce.
I’ve failed a lot in my life, and, overall, I feel pretty good about it. Of course, there are some failures I’m not proud of, like my first attempt at college, when I went from earning As and Bs to Ds and Fs because I was more interested in attending parties than in attending class.
But other failures feel like badges of honor to me, because they mean I had enough guts to take a chance. Like when I went through the screening program to be an air traffic controller and failed to make the cut – thank heaven. Or when my husband and I opened a pizza shop in a tiny Upstate New York village and had to close it after only eight months. Both of these experiences gave me two critical insights: Enormous respect for the people who succeed in these endeavors, and the certain knowledge that these things are not for me.
Maybe that’s why failure doesn’t seem like such a bad thing to me. If nothing else, I’ll never have to wonder “what if” – what would my life be like if I learned how to safely direct airplanes along the invisible routes in the sky, or what if I had my own restaurant? Instead, I am free to focus my energy on the things that really matter to me, the things I really have a passion for, like my writing.
And here, too, failure is a badge of honor. Rejection stinks, but it’s a big part of being a writer, and how much it stinks depends on how you look at it. I choose to look at it like this: My work can’t be rejected if I’m not sending it out, so the fact that I’m collecting rejection slips means I’ve at least got the guts to try. I don’t want to fail, but I’m willing to risk it in pursuit of what I do want.
I’m 43 years old, and I figure I’ve got another 40 or 50 years of life ahead of me. I imagine at some point I’ll start to lose my hearing and my eyesight and my ability to do gardening or even walk up the stairs. But I believe I can cope with all that, as long as I don’t lose my willingness to fail.
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