What failure is–and isn’t

This excellent post by truepenny on what failure doesn’t mean reminded me of some of the things I’d tell you I already knew if you asked me, but that I somehow manage to forget on a regular basis anyway.

I think, in retrospect, it would have been good for me to get a C or two in college, just to force me to realize that it wasn’t the end of my academic career, or of me as a worthwhile person, or whatever the hell I thought it would be … But my point is, if you don’t fail, or don’t allow yourself to fail, you don’t become a better person. You become a more rigid person. More brittle. More uptight.

Among other things, this post reminded me of a couple of the times in my life when I did fail. First, that I did get a C or two in college, after being a pretty much straight A student until then. I tanked a couple courses, withdrew from a couple more, and finally changed majors because I wasn’t any good at the one I’d started out in. And–yeah–after my initial stress-and-depression-and-the-world-is-ending reaction, it was kind of good for me, for all that I’d rather have succeeded. Because it forced me to finally realize that I wasn’t the sum of my grades–that my grades weren’t me, and if you took them all away I still existed, was still a worthwhile human being living out in the world.

And then, as a writer, I had a long dry spell, after my first three books came out, when my writing wasn’t selling. About halfway through that, faced with growing depression, I was forced to sit down, take stock and realize my writing wasn’t me either, no matter how much I valued it and how much of myself I put into it. I had worth outside of anything I achieved, and my right to exist and take joy in existing on this planet wasn’t something I had to earn.

And yet, somehow, I keep managing to forget this. Every so often, I need a reminder: That neither success nor failure defines me. That I don’t need to get everything last thing right. That it’s okay to live day to day in that middle ground that is a mix of successes and failures–to live in that place of simply being imperfect and human.

In the end I’m none the worse, and maybe even just a little bit the better, for doing so.

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