Wednesday, April 7, 2010

F is for Failure: It's Just Not That Bad

I started college off as a Physics major.

College was a major culture shock for me. First of all, I'd been homeschooled. Second of all, I was very much used to being the smartest person in the room when I was with my peers.  Then I went to a tech school, with short, intense semesters full of long hours and deadlines, and a lot of other very smart people, many of whom were smarter than me. It was brutal.

As I struggled with my first semester of Calc, Physics, Chemistry, and Into to Materials, I tacked a sticky note up to my computer that said:

Do your best. No guarantees.

My best friend sat down at my comptuer one day and said, "That's really depressing, Guin."

"Is it?" I asked. "I don't see what's depressing about it."

"It's like you might fail."

Well, that can be an option. But is it such a bad thing?

I'm glad that at some point in my otherwise relatively charmed life, I grew comfortable with the idea of failing. OK, I admit, my delicate ego is never enthused by the idea, and I may be forced to curl up in bed with a pan of brownies as I grieve whatever plan just came to an awkward end.

I used to be paralyzed by my fear of messing things up -- preferring not to try rather than confront my own limitations. And then, I gave up the idea, somewhere along the way, that my value as a person was pinned to doing everything well.  Whether it's a 65 on an Electromagnetism test, my embarassingly slow marathon times, a rough presentation at work or the realization that I manage to fail at STENCILING, a craft I think most kindergartners can manage... I'm OK. I'm still awesome, just maybe not awesome at that particular thing.

(Let's not even talk about the stenciling)

That is a very good thing to know, too, when I declare my art finished, only to be awoken to the fact that perhaps it was not ready to be loosed up on the populace.  I *may* have cried in the car after a successful career novelist told me she got nothing out of my main character in a short story.   I *may* have said something less-than-graceful to my laptop when I got a form rejection back off a request from a full.  I *may* have twenty rejections from agents about Shards, which is likely only the beginning of the rejection pile.

I am still a good person. I am still a good writer. And I am getting better all the time.

So bring on the risk of failure. I'm not afraid of it.

I can live without any guarantees.


Jen said...

Loved your use of the letter F today!!! Failure is often something to be proud of it can show us how far we've come and how many steps we took to get there so even though at times failure seems like the worst thing on the planet it only means you have the chance to learn from it... and I always do!

Matthew Rush said...

Thanks for sharing Guinevere.

If you never try at all you're sure to fail.

Also, like Jen said, how else can you expect to learn if not from your own mistakes?

Lynn Colt said...

That was one of the great things about college - I got my first failing grade on an exam (though it curved into a C; yay engineering school) It was awful at the time, but it broke my perfectionist tendencies and let me start thinking about pursuing my dreams despite the probability of failure.

Form rejections off of fulls hurt. One I got for a previous novel didn't even list the agent's name (or mine), only her agency, and I had to look up in my files to see who it was I'd sent something to and that it was a full. >.<

Just remember, all the rejections and bumps in the road will make for entertaining stories after we're published!

On another note: I don't have many in-person writing friends, so since we're both in NOVA, if you want to get coffee sometime and rant/rave about writing, let me know :)

Stina Lindenblatt said...

If we don't fail, we won't get better. And if we don't fail, our successes won't be half as sweet.

I think that's why writers shouldn't measure their success based on being published. None of my books have been published, and maybe none ever will be. But I'm proud of what I've accomplished since I started writing, and how much I'm still growing as a writer. I think that's what's important.

Shelley Sly said...

Thank you thank you thank you for this post, and for the assurance that it's okay not to have a guarantee. I admit that failure is one of my biggest fears, and it carries on into my writing life. But you're right -- we do our best, it's all we can do.

sarahjayne smythe said...

Great post. Thank you. Failure is a lesson we all have to learn sooner or later. It's what we do with that failure after the fact that really matters.

disobedientwriter said...

I'm jealous of your centered approach to this. I don't care about failing in most areas, but writing & parenting are two areas that I'm absolutely maniacal about NOT failing. I can't seem to get my thinking over that hump. Share your secrets!

LOL about the stencils, BTW.

Wanda said...

As a recovering perfectionist, this post was very therapeutic. Like you I encountered quite a shock during my college years.

E. Elle said...

This is a great post, Guin. Thanks for sharing. I think a lot of us fear rejection and it takes a strong character to be able to face it with the positivity you do. I commend you for that! I will try my best to remember that failing an attempt does not equate failing as a human.

Lisa said...

There are few guarantees in this life, but one of them is that we will fail at something at some point. I like your attitude about it. Fear of failure is paralyzing. And to not try at all, well, you know. :)

Great post!

Lisa said...

There are few guarantees in this life, but one of them is that we will fail at something at some point. I like your attitude about it. Fear of failure is paralyzing. And to not try at all, well, you know. :)

Great post!

Kaylie said...

The F word is not so bad. Your post reminded me of a JK Rowling speech. Not that I work for the Harry Potter marketing team or anything, but I thought you might enjoy this. Here's the link.

劉承合 said...