Failure and Success
It’s a damned hard work, coming up with one’s first blog.
It involved hours, no, days of trawling through books, the internet, and the far recesses of my brain, looking for inspiration. And then today two things happened that made it clear what I should be writing about. In the morning I received an email from an editor to whom I had submitted a pitch for a feature article. It was a perfectly nice, polite email, declining to run my story. What happened next was an instant “pang” somewhere in my chest area (the opposite to a gut reaction: a heart reaction!), then my brain started working overtime trying to make sense of the fact that I had just been rejected. You’d think that I’d be used to rejection by now, but no. Without fail – and into my fourty-fifth year of what surely must amount to thousands of similar moments – the experience is always the same.
Following this initial feeling, some other part of my brain (obviously not the same part that is already going “Oh crap! I will never be published again! I will never write again! I will never eat again! I’m a FAILURE!”) kicks into overdrive, calming me down, saying “Oh well! OBVIOUSLY it was not meant to happen. OBVIOUSLY there is a much better place out there for your story, just waiting for you! OBVIOUSLY you need this extra challenge, to grow as a person! Blah, blah, blah…” So then, for the rest of the morning I went into this schizophrenic existence, with the two conflicting messages pinging around my head, competing for attention.
It is interesting that there is a LOT written about failure – the reasons for it, the merits of it, how it can change your life for the better, etc. A quick search on the internet revealed tons of opinions on rejection and failure, most notably this quote from Oprah Winfrey :
“Failure is just life, trying to move us into another direction.[…]And when you’re down in the hole, when that moment comes, it’s really okay to feel bad for a little while — give yourself time to mourn what you think you may have lost — but, then, here’s the key: Learn from every mistake. Because every experience, encounter, and particularly your mistakes are there to teach you and force you into being more of who you are.” (http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2013/06/04/oprah-winfrey-harvard-2013-commencement/)
Well said, Oprah! After all, if you can’t believe Oprah who can you believe?
But, my personal favourite – and which I posted enthusiastically on my Facebook site, in a very rare act of “sharing” on my page – came from the Facebook page “Humans in New York”, where a middle-aged white guy wearing a kilt (in New York winter temperatures!) responded to the question “If you could give one piece of advice to a large group of people, what would it be?” with:
“I’d tell them the same thing I’d tell one person. That if you understand failure, you won’t be afraid of it anymore. Failure isn’t diving on your face, or hitting rock bottom. That’s just being human. You only fail when you decide not to try again. Once you understand failure, it’s impossible to fail.” (https://www.facebook.com/humansofnewyork)
It has to be said that my enthusiasm for the kilt-guy’s quote was on a particular day when I wasn’t struggling with my own sense of “failure” – meaning that it is easier to get excited about profound life insights when it is not your own life being addressed!
Now, fast forward past all the angst to this afternoon, when I am making a trip to the magazine shop to see and buy a magazine which has just published one of my articles. It is much harder to describe the heart-palpitating exhilaration of seeing my story on the front cover, and then, on page 36, in print, just as I wrote it and looking fabulous. This is an article which meant a lot to me, and took me a long time to write – an interview with legendary horseman Buck Brannaman, a man who is one of those wise, inspirational ueber-humans, and whom I had the honour to meet and interview at the beginning of the year. So this means that there is now another part of my brain, jubilating, celebrating, and telling the “rejected” part of my brain to quit moaning, as surely, the perfect antidote to rejection has to be success?
But maybe it is not that simple. And while I can give you absolutely no advice on how to reconcile all those different parts of the brain and the different messages, I can tell you this: I believe that every little thing counts as a writer. Every small positive moment – whether that moment is an editor or somebody else responding positively to your work, or whether it is just the fact that you were able to sit down today and have a coherent flow of words emerging from the end your pen – everything counts, because it has to. Because if it doesn’t, then there is only that one voice in your brain, the one that so easily attaches itself to all the negative stuff. To write, to live and to make meaning of things I need those other voices crowding my brain – without them life would be surely be more peaceful, but also a damn sight less interesting. After all, as E.L. Doctorow states: