Failure is an option

Do you ever get the feeling that the rest of the world has it all figured out, and they’re all just about to stop dead in their tracks, turn and point at you, with that scream from Invasion of the Body Snatchers, because “…there’s no-one like you left!” who is completely lost… Or is that just me?

Of course it isn’t just me. I might be the most recent person to draw comparisons to extensively re-made Pod-people pictures, but most of us have experienced similar feelings, I’m sure.

At times it seems like I am separated from the one I love, not by 800 miles and a bit of water, but by an unbridgeable crack in the universe, from which all the horrors of the darkest realms of hell will emerge to consume my soul. Now, you’re perfectly entitled to say that flying with Ryanair just makes it seem that way, and the one time I flew with Norwegian certainly brought me a lot closer to that conclusion, but I think it has more to do with internal demons than cramped seating and stingy carry-on allowances.

Allow me to crawl out of my own backside for a moment and attempt to explain. It’s all about fear of failure. Amki, would be the first person to tell you that I am entirely too fond of allowing my inner tormenting bastard to stomp around inside my head, in his big ugly boots, breaking windows and poking at my neuroses with a sharp stick, until all I can see is twisted metal and carnage, where there used to be a serene meadow full of fluffy, if rather bewildered looking, bunnies.

Considering some of the ill-advised escapades I have embarked upon over the years, it is perhaps just as well that failure never used to bother me. In fact, it used to bother me so little that I suffered from a terrible sort of escalation-of-failure complex which went something like this: “If walking across the street was fraught with danger, wouldn’t it be easier to try walking across the water? Or… Ooh! Flying across the street!” However skewed my perspective on the phenomenon, failure was just part of the game; fall off the bike, bandage your knee and get back on it. Unfortunately, you can only fall off so many times before common sense starts to tell you “Maybe I should just take the bus!” and those of us who occasionally suffer from a mind-crippling landslide of insecurities eventually start to see failure as the only likely outcome in any situation.

I have known plenty of people who rationalize “expectation of failure” by telling you that you are less likely to be disappointed, and while this may be true you are also much less likely to succeed if you begin with this frame of mind. Columbus had no idea what he would find out there in the uncharted ocean, and had little more idea where he had actually been at the end of his voyage, but history doesn’t care that he greatly underestimated the size of the planet. He is revered, and rightly so. How successful do you think he would have been if he had recruited sailors with the following, inspiring speech: “OK guys… we’re gonna be travelling off the maps, where no-one has gone before, and I fully expect that we will die screaming and alone, in the middle of a deep black ocean, far from those we love. Who’s with me?” Doesn’t exactly evoke confidence, does it?

So we have to begin new and exciting adventures from a standpoint of unbridled optimism… or at least meagre hope… OK, maybe just a shrug of the shoulders and a wince is enough of a start, but somehow we have to reclaim our adventurous spirit, lest it drag us, kicking and screaming, into the deep dark waters of Bloke-who-works-the-copier-whose-name-I-can-never-remember…dom.

We are the dreamers of the dreams! We are those who rushed in where angels feared to tread! The nerds whose devotion to internet fads paved the way for them to become so cool, that we were eventually not cool enough to be on people’s friends list! We said moving pictures will catch on! We are the ones who fall off the bike time and time again, so that those who follow us will not have to! History will speak our names with… a kind of mild disinterest, and say: “Never heard of him!”

You see? I can start off at a run, but it isn’t long before I get a stitch and consider feigning a broken ankle, so that I can sit the whole thing out, wearing a tin-foil blanket and cradling a Mars bar.

What is the solution? How do I get back that fearless spirit that propelled me into so many ditches full of nettles when I was a kid? Where is the optimism that left me completely unafraid to tell my boss to stick his job, just because he wouldn’t give me a bathroom break? How have I become this terrified little shadow of my former self; afraid to go into the bathroom in bare feet lest I stub my toe? Why, even now, when I am just weeks away from moving across the water to be with my fiancée, am I convinced that I will limp home with a broken heart and an unused tuxedo? I have never, ever… even for one second been given even the slightest impression that such a thing will happen. There is absolutely no evidence to support such a conclusion. I simply… expect… to fail.

So… now that I have laid (fearlessly or stupidly, I’ll let you decide) bare my concerns for half-a-dozen people across the globe to see, I expect something in return. I would like any suggestions on how to tackle this kind of behaviour. And when I say suggestions, I don’t mean wonderfully insightful comments like “Cheer up, it might never happen!” I can get all the fortune-cookie wisdom I need from stoners and facebook evangelists, thank you very much. I’m looking for ways that I might start putting more than a trembling toe into the bath-tub again; to get back the days when I did not need a piece of blue touch-paper, tied to the end of a garden-cane, to light my fucking barbecue.

I’ll tell you what… I’m asking too much. Just leave a comment.

Y’see? I did it again.

Don’t bend over for the soap! Or… DO! Nothing ventured, nothing gained… right?

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11 comments on “Failure is an option

  1. Baby steps. You are right we all have those feelings. I find myself going over and over mistakes made in the past that most people would either not notice or not care about, minor things, but in my minds eye everyone is pointing and laughing at me. Regrets are the biggest cause of fear in my opinion and it is the easiest thing in the world to say live without regret, much harder to do in practise.

    Only the brave or the stupid can move past fear as far as I am concerned, and I would rather be either of those than a coward. And for the sake of adding another cliché, everyone is their own worst enemy.

    Be happy Jim, even if you can’t seem to see the positives of the future at the moment, you cannot honestly say that things aren’t better for you at the moment than they have been for a while.

    That is just my two cents, take it or leave it as you will and I hope I haven’t seemed to condescending, I normally end up that way when I write anything longer than a sentence or so 😛

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    • Nope. I completely understand what you are trying to say, Ben-jammin. Thanks for the comment.

      I can totally see the positives in my future. I’m happier than I can ever remember being in my life, and the woman in my life is the most wonderful person I have ever met. What I worry about is failing to get as far as that wonderful future. At the moment, I am just struggling with all the other crap that’s going on… and I’ve reached that inevitable point in my life where I don’t expect to end up happy, because why the hell do I deserve to? It’s my suspicious nature telling me: “The most perfect woman in the world loves me. Everything is going in the right direction. OK… what’s the catch?” THAT is the attitude I’m trying to get past.

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  2. I understand that point of view, I have just never had it attached to something as important as you have right now. But in the last couple of years I struggle to count the number of things I have given up on without fully trying, and that was never me. So all I am trying to say is you are right, everyone thinks that way… or at least I do

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  3. You know, I think that most wonderful woman in the world might have a bit of insight for you. A post she wrote a few months back consistently reminds me of the worth of the present in such a way that I cannot ignore it. The present, and the un-presence of bad things. Here’s the URL: http://theswedishflowerpot.wordpress.com/2012/04/23/how-happy-some-oer-other-some-can-be/

    Other than that, though, is the fact that I have encountered similar problems lately. It just so happened that it spun 180 degrees last night and my crippling depression turned towards whatever it is we call happiness. I’m unemployed after a significantly long job search, more or less alone and away from my friends and family in an apartment in this abandoned college town (it’s the summer, after all), have no form of transportation (this is a backwoods sort of town), and have to closely count my pennies at the grocer. But, as Hemingway said, “Hunger is good discipline” — I agree with him, and try to love it.

    What the matter is, though, is the threat of LOOMING FAILURE. Failure in every way that would lead to my psychological and spiritual destruction. I’m never getting enough done, never producing enough art, never writing enough, blah blah blah. I’m a fiery optimist but I lost that spark completely.

    So, I said to hell with it. To hell with it all. What was getting me down were my expectations. Saying to myself, “Well, Tyler, if you want to be a writer, or artist, or (enter whatever you may please here), you have to do this, and this, and this, and get X amount of work done consistently. Otherwise you’ll FAIL. FOREVER.” Grim. My expectations were killing me. The idea that I had to “get enough done” and “work harder, dammit!” completely destroyed my psyche and, rather than forcefully encouraging me to strive towards my goals, caused me to freeze up and feel I could do nothing but fail no matter how hard I worked.

    It was all the wrong way of thinking. I realize now, my first full day out of that black hole, that I actually was “getting things done.” Maybe this whole idea of productivity to the max is an American work-ethic idea, or a general work-ethic idea. I don’t know. But, when I closely analyzed my actions, failure was a long way away. In fact, I had the power to define failure. Realizing that you have complete power over your enemy and distraught thoughts is the first step to conquering those feelings (or it was for me).

    The only reason I become so depressed is because I love what I’m doing so much I never want to stop — even if it is not, at present, bringing me fame, fortune, and whatever illusions we are force-fed that define this elusive state of “happiness.” My body forcing me to sleep when I’m in the middle of doing something social, artistic or otherwise creative is just me becoming sad because I don’t want to stop. But it’s OK, we all do need to sleep sometime. Take breaks. Kick back and do something that is entirely for leisure. I’d even say that hedonism is healthy in moderate doses.

    Thus, the thesis of this drawn-out comment is that you and only you can define happiness. You define success and failure. The world, no matter how much it may try, cannot accurately tell you what will make you happy and what will make you sad, what will cause success and what will cause failure. These emotions and states are internal. Greatness is unnecessary. The most glorious time of your life is now and always now. Next time you drink a cup of coffee or tea, or eat a delicious sandwich, or kiss the one you love, savor it. Do not think, but know how incredibly wonderful it is. When you know that your happiness and your success does not depend on the world, there is only joy and peace in the content mind.

    Hope this helps my friend. Wes Thu Hal. Blessings to you

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    • Thank you Tyler. I know most of Amki’s posts by heart, I have read them so many times, but thanks for the link.

      I used to very much the person you just described. At one time I would have written all that you have just written. But as time has worn on I have sunk deeper and deeper into convincing myself that I’m just not good enough. And earlier this evening I realised that the “tormenting bastard” part of me I spoke of in this post, is no longer simply a big part of me… It has become the biggest part, and now seems to winning much more often.

      This post was my attempt at writing my way out of a hole, using the only method I know of to cover up my depression; humour. It didn’t work as well as I had hoped.

      The most wonderful woman in the world has many insights for me, very often. We talk every single day at some point, and usually for several hours, but the more insight she offers, the more I am reminded of the insightful part of myself that I have lost. She would be the first person to tell you that I do savour experiences. I derive joy from the simplest and most insignificant of happenings. And still, I fear that I may have finally buried my once optimistic nature far too deep.

      There! That cheered everyone up I bet! Let it never be said that I don’t know how to throw a party…

      Thanks again, Tyler.

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    • Funnily enough, Tyler… that post of Amki’s that you linked me, was half-intended as a message for me the last time I got into this state. It followed another depressed conversation where I kept apologising to her for being a miserable jerk, and I was going to try harder to pull myself out of it. Finally she said: “Honey… there is absolutely nothing wrong with being miserable from time to time. It happens to everybody. Stop apologising for it!”

      We should all be as clear-headed as that woman. She has her moments too, but, for the most part she is a picture of level-headedness and perfection.

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  4. Appearances may deceive, my love. It might seem to you like you’ve buried that part of yourself far too deep, and as if that self-destructive asshole in your brain in taking over, but consider what happens every time we’re apart, how everything seems so much harder, depressions get so much worse, and holes so much deeper. Do you really think it’ll be that way when you get here again, or do you think we’ll be filled with that same kind of perpetual joy that always surrounds us when we’re in the same place, and that the future, and our present, will seem bright because we make it so together? I love you, and I am willing to ride out each and every storm with you, as long as you don’t let go of my hand.

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    • Thank you, my love. No man could ever wish for a more supportive or loving fiancée than you.

      I know you’re right. Everything will be fine. You know what things have been like over here this week. People can be extremely hurtful… especially when they know you’re vulnerable.

      I love you, and thank you.

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  5. Do a bungy-jump. Nothing like throwing yourself off a very high ledge and seemingly falling to your doom, to then realise you’re defying gravity by flying back up, to kick start your sense of adventure and to give a good and swift kick in the balls to your part of the brain that says you can’t do that.

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  6. Even though I only know you through this funny website called WordPress, it does dishearten me to hear what you’re saying. On the other hand, you still have your fearless spirit. Writing what you write emphasizes your spirit. To write at all, to confess such things, to be open about your complexities and problems and still have the energy to deal with it everyday. I’d say that your nature is changing with time. Maybe it’s far off from what you used to call successful or optimistic but it is, most likely, still you. What are you so afraid of losing through failure, when what you call “failure” is bringing you joy in this moment, no matter the hardships?

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