There is a whole lot of baloney talked about how failure is the new success, and, as far as I can make out, the only people who spout it are those who succeed in the end: the ‘it makes me stronger, wiser, more determined’ brigade. The learning that comes from failure is lauded as something that can re-calibrate and put you back on the bike, peddling towards success. Consider, however, failure as a positive because of what it might have diverted you from. Failure might be the road to a happy ending. Look what happened to many of those who did not fail. Elvis and Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston and Janis Joplin: turmoil on the road to an unhappy ending. F. Scott Fitzgerald and Brendan Behan and Oscar Wilde: excess on the road to an unhappy ending. Failure is sweet because obscurity is peaceful and bestows upon one a serene state of mind. Failure is sweet because it makes you recognise your last attempt wasn’t very good anyway and you could do better: write better, sing better, paint better, dance better. Failure is sweet when you meet him thirty years later only to see that he has turned into his father. (Thank God for that failure.) Failure is sweet because sometimes what you’ve ended up with tastes better than what the recipe called for, even if it looks like a dog’s dinner. Failure is sweet because winning the game is over-rated and, besides, life’s a mission, not a competition. Failure is sweet because life is one big experiment and most success is subjective – why are we hung up with someone else’s opinion, what do they know? Failure is sweet so long as you don’t take it to heart and let it beat you. Failure is sweet because whilst you live and breathe, you still have a chance.
If I sound overwhelmingly negative, I don’t mean to. Let me refer you to someone who explains it better than I. Niall Williams, in his novel, This is Happiness, pens many wonderful lines stating simple, well-turned truths. “We’re all the time striving, and though that means there’s a more-or-less constant supply of failure, it’s not such a terrible thing if you think that you keep on trying.” He’s right. Sure, what else would we be doing with ourselves other than trying?
I’m not a believer in equating failure with quitting (at least not always), and once you lean into the sweetness of failure (which may be a softer name for Williams’s “constant supply of failure”), once you feel and accept the disappointment of an outcome not going your way, once you sit long enough to realise the failure has not mortally wounded you, then you can get back to the joy of doing whatever it is you are trying to do without letting the dream slip. That dream may be a distant target you will someday hit or not hit, but there’s satisfaction to be had in enjoying your efforts regardless, and, as a consolation, remember that your notion of a happy ending might end up looking like something else entirely. Here’s another theft from Niall Williams: “We all become stories in the end.” Too right, so why not make the story you leave an interesting one, because often failure is as compelling a tale as success, especially when that failure has been a happy pursuit in keeping the dream alive.
Dreams, Langston Hughes
Hold fast to dreams For if dreams die Life is a broken-winged bird That cannot fly. Hold fast to dreams For when dreams go Life is a barren field Frozen with snow.