The Failure Soliloquy

I misunderstood failure for many years.

In fact, for a long time I insisted it was the only thing I was afraid of. I was unable to stomach the thought of letting people down, terrified of being seen as flawed or exposed as inadequate.

Worried about making mistakes and losing face, I became obsessed with the fantasy of perfection. I struggled mightily to dissociate the event–falling short at anything–from my identity as a whole.

One question could always stop me in my tracks:

“If this fails, am I a failure?”

I have passed many nights staring at the ceiling playing out horrible ends only to fall asleep after sunrise and wake up hours later in no better frame of mind.

My confidence always balanced precariously, looking for a reason to deflate, searching for proof I wasn’t as good as I thought, almost begging to be shown how wrong I was to ever believe I could do something of consequence.

I asked myself if I was capable.

I wondered if I’d thought of everything.

I considered all the angles.

And, more often than not, I chose to avoid taking a chance when anything but certain victory was assured.

This is no way to live.

It took me a long time to get accept that.

I make every effort to help my students see failure differently, to measure success from within as opposed to using some arbitrary guidepost set up by someone else–to prize their own satisfaction more than another’s reaction.

In most cases, my own and theirs, understanding the good habits takes a back seat to the mentality that must change: the shift from defining a failure as fatal to framing it as an opportunity.

Dad has often said, “It’s only a failure if you don’t learn something.”

It took a string of public and private catastrophes for me to understand why.

The reason failure is such a powerful learning tool is because it happens so much more often than success. By being plentiful, it allows us the chance–if we accept it–to make another effort in a better fashion.

If we’re not careful, the celebration that accompanies achievement can give us a sort of amnesia about what made something work, it can hide imperfections for exposure at a later date. (Think of the roller coaster ride of the iPhone 4, in recent days.)

Failure, with the inherent pain that goes along with it, imprints itself on our conscious much easier. I can tell you more about the tough losses in my athletic career than I can great wins for one reason: heartbreak is incredibly powerful.

Visceral emotion has evolved to protect us from the harm of the savanna, to guard us from poor decisions that would get us killed. It is natural for us to have second thoughts every time we are in danger and, after falling short at something, the brain is keen to keep from experiencing the same harm.

Failure can be a springboard or a crutch, a motivation or an excuse.

When you fall it is easy to stay down, to resist the temptation to fight against gravity and rise again. The outcome of life is determined more by the times you stand up, everyone knows that.

Defeat can be denied or embraced, adopted like an ally or feared as a bully.

All I’ve chosen to do is make failure my friend.


The Fatigue Soliloquy

The Fear Soliloquy

The Focus Soliloquy

The Faith Soliloquy


Sorry, Life is Fair

You Can Rebuild You

3 Reasons for a Short Run


6 Responses to “The Failure Soliloquy”

  1. 1 snapurly July 26, 2010 at 10:43 pm

    Great post. Like you, I seem to remember the times I have failed much more vividly than my successes. Unfortunately, instead of using these failures to motivate me to get better, I find myself making excuses. No wonder I feel like in certain areas of my life, I have been maintaining the status quo for some time now! I’m hoping to follow in your footsteps and motivate myself with my past failures to realize success in the future.

    • 2 Jason Eichacker July 26, 2010 at 11:58 pm

      Failure makes an imprint and, if we allow it, will hinder us the next time we come across an opportunity. Before too long, we avoid what might have been an excellent chance to shift in a positive direction altogether. It’s only when we utilize the moments we’ve fallen short to maintain persistence in the chase for larger goals that it changes into the hallowed “experience”.

  1. 1 The Fear Soliloquy « MeBuilding Trackback on July 22, 2010 at 7:20 am
  2. 2 The Fatigue Soliloquy « MeBuilding Trackback on July 22, 2010 at 7:22 am
  3. 3 The Focus Soliloquy « MeBuilding Trackback on July 23, 2010 at 7:38 am
  4. 4 The Faith Soliloquy « MeBuilding Trackback on July 23, 2010 at 7:55 am
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