“Like one that on a lonesome road
Doth walk in fear and dread,
And having once turned round walks on,
And turns no more his head;
Because he knows,
a frightful fiend
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
“Because I do not hope to turn again
T S Eliot
I have been thinking about failure a great deal, lately. I think that it is important to learn how to fail.
By that I do not mean learning how to fail intentionally, how to sabotage one’s own efforts. That’s not learning how to fail, that’s learning how not to succeed, which is not the same thing at all.
What I mean is that I really don’t know how to deal with the possibility that I might simply not be able to do what I want to do with my life. That I might actually give it my best shot and miss. That’s not something that I was ever taught how to handle.
There is a tendency to lie to children. Some lies do more damage than others. I believe that one of the most pernicious and toxic is; “You can be anything you want to be.”
It’s simply not true. And unlike the other myths of childhood, Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, most of us don’t ever encounter a kindly adult to debunk it.
The intention behind the lie is good, no doubt. Adults mean to encourage children, to urge them toward success. The unintended consequence, however, is that we grow believing that we have a right to succeed, and that makes us bitter when it doesn’t happen.
People are going to tell me, quite rightly, that it is too early for me to give up, that I haven’t really given my writing career my full effort. That is true.
I don’t believe, though, that it is too early for me to think about failure, to consider the possibility, to prepare myself for it.
There is saying that is common among pilots: “Every takeoff is optional, every landing is mandatory.”
I’ve taken off, and I realize that I haven’t given much thought to how to come down.
Again, planning for failure is not the same thing as intending to fail. In my work I deal with Fire/Life Safety extensively. I do not want any of the buildings that I work on to burn down. I devoutly pray that none of them ever will. I do everything in my power to make sure they don’t.
I would be criminally negligent, however, if I didn’t plan for the possibility.
I might not be able to make writing my career. It doesn’t mean that I am a bad person, or that I’m weak, or that I didn’t really try. It means only that sometimes we try and we fail. It happens.
I don’t intend to give up. I don’t intend to stop trying.
I’d be lying to myself, though, if I didn’t acknowledge that it might not work.