I'm learning a lot these days about the nuance of failure. For various reasons of temperament, cultural norms and family pride, I have always tried to avoid losing even as I carefully observed the game. My notion of what success looked like could never bend to include me in it; I refused to even run the race, which kept me safe but allowed little in the way of accomplishment.
I'm not beating myself up for this bare minimum effort. I had my reasons, chief among them a desire to avoid crippling depression and anxiety. Like many other people, I never learned to be in that place of vulnerability where I'm striving for something that I might not get, without shame or embarrassment. I didn't get the memo that said I could openly admit I wanted to accomplish something without a failure-proof plan laying out how to get it.
But now, as I seek validation (an agent, a publishing deal, and readers) for my work, I'm learning that there are many degrees of "failure". I can be rejected by an agent and still have a positive exchange with the person dinging me. I can negotiate a fee with a client in a transparent way that feels kind for both of us, even if neither of us gets exactly what we want. I can post on a blog few people read.
What's important about failing this way? Well, obviously it keeps the door open for future efforts. But on a deeper level, relaxing about failure allows me to seek more of it.
Yes, you heard right. As I let failure into my life, I am free to actively pursue the kind of risks I must take, to get what I want. Like the old Michael Jordan story about free throws, I can rack up attempts until one day, if I keep at it, the door swings open for real, and I walk through.
I hope that moment, when I experience unmitigated success, won't put me far afield of where I am now. Because I like being open with people about my aspirations, without running for cover in embarrassment and shame. I like simply being where I am, and meeting others where they are.
So I bring failure into my life, knowing that each time I look closely at what went wrong, or where I placed my hopes too high, I learn. And for me, growing, moving forward, and gaining experience is the opposite of failure. It allows me to try. I wouldn't go back to being safe for anything, especially not the guarantee of success not hard earned. When I get what I want, I am going to savor every rejection as evidence that I can take it. I can keep going. I can win.
What risk could you take with your heartfelt desire?