On Failure


Failure is an attention-grabbing word, isn’t it? It’s the one thing nobody wants to be, the one thing nobody wants to do, the one thing nobody wants to attract. Nobody wants to be a failure, nobody wants to fail, and nobody wants to be caught in an endless failing loop. Or maybe I’m just speaking for myself, maybe this experience isn’t as universal as I might think, maybe this is just another journal entry that chronicles a thought or idea or experience that is unique to me. I doubt it, but I’ll proceed on this assumption nonetheless. 

Conventional wisdom – especially that which is drummed into those of us that pass through the educational system – suggests that we should pursue success and eschew failure at all costs, that we should set attainable goals and strive to ensure we attain them. The prevailing wisdom dictates that in this world, there’s no room for failure, none whatsoever. There are two types of people in this world – we’re told – those that succeed, and those that fail, and the type of people that succeed have always done so and will probably always do so, while the same can be said for the type of people that fail – they’re perpetual failures. 

Imagine my surprise, then, to learn that some of the most successful, most revered and lauded individuals of our time, have failed miserably at one time or another,  and more often than not. What happens is, we, the public tend to conveniently forget about the failures once there’s a success story to tell. Some of these failures even make their way into their success stories. In fact, it is often part of the narrative, the grass-to-grace story, the tale of the person who failed at one point, and how that failure defined them and paved the way for the success that was to come. Best-selling biographies and auto-biographies are rife with this kind of narrative. You’ll hear about how Steve Jobs was fired from Apple and cast into the wilderness, only to return decades later and launch some of the best-selling products of all time. What you’ll never hear about, are the stories of those who failed in similar positions, but didn’t go on to achieve similar successes as the heroes and protagonists of the best-sellers.

This sets up a landscape where we view failure as permissible only if there’s a promise of success to come. In this landscape, the person who fails and doesn’t have a follow-up success to show for it is branded a failure, or at least not taken seriously until they come back with a success story to share. This begs the question: is that all failure is good for, to pave the way to success? And another question: is it any wonder that we view failure the way we do, with fear and scorn and as something to avoid at all costs?

Over the last few years, I've slowly recalibrated my attitude towards failure as I have embarked on my creative journey. It hasn't been easy, and the work is far from finished. As an artist, there's little choice but to embrace failure, and not always as a means to an end. Failure is simply evidence of having tried something that hasn't turned out based on expected outcomes. It shows that the "failure" at least had the courage to go out and try something new, to reach for something that wasn't guaranteed, to aim higher and reach for more than the merely attainable, to go where none or few have dared to go. This is what we should encourage as a society, the courage to do something in spite of the risks of failing. Through this lens, I wake up each day and apply myself to my creative pursuits. I write new songs and stories, and apply for festival slots and publishing deals, knowing fully well that not all of the above will yield positive responses or any responses at all. 

I've written about the rejection I've experienced so far and my evolving relationship with it. That said, as painful as rejection can be, I’ve found that it isn’t nearly as terrifying as being branded a failure, and this is all the more reason for me to overcome the fear of failure. Dan Harris, author of 10% Happier, when asked by the How to Build a Happy Life podcast host Arthur C. Brooks about how he overcame his fear of failure, put it best when he said he did it mostly by failing. Dan Harris’ reputation as a well-known broadcaster and best-selling author precedes him, and yet, he has an array of failed TV shows he tried to launch and projects that got met with criticism. These failed projects helped him realise that even when you fail, the sun will rise the next day, and it is powerful to know that you can fail and still survive.

There’s no shortage of stories like this, and yes, I’m aware that a lot of these failure stories are framed within success stories, like that of Dan Harris. Still, the sentiment holds, that the willingness to fail often and fail early is an essential ingredient in the making of a successful life, however you choose to define success. That said, I feel the need to state that this reappraisal and subsequent embrace of failure isn’t a licence to be complacent, but rather a springboard to try new things and expand your horizon, because it might just work out, and it might just be what the world had been waiting on you for. But even if it isn’t and you happen to fail this time, it helps to know that the sun will rise tomorrow, and you’ll still be here to try again. 

PS: Just a reminder that my latest single, Feels Like Rain is out now, everywhere. You can listen to it on several platforms. Please share it with a friend, share it with your social networks, and consider subscribing to the newsletter (below), my YouTube channel, or wherever else you listen to music.

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