Practicum: Why You Should Talk About Failure

Never embrace failure. Don’t glorify, love, enjoy, or even tolerate it. Resist failure. Contend with it. The means, intensity, and awareness of that contention, however, determines whether you will have the stamina to contend again tomorrow. What should be embraced — what must be embraced for the sake of sanity — is the fact that failure is persistent, even when you’re at your best, and that failure may bring with it positive effects.

Life is an organic, entangled, and messy affair. No two facets of life can be cleanly separated from one another. Success and failure are no exception. Just as pursuing material goals will always exact a cost of time and resources; there will always be an emotional, social, and psychic cost to striving for personal excellence. No one (not even the most crisp, gleaming, Instagram-ready, pastel accentuated mindfulness coach) can honestly say they’ve found success without paying for it, without experiencing something that looks and feels like, and, by some measure, is failure. Each of us must take stock of our lives and scrawl a crooked line between what we’ve gained and what we’ve lost and call one side of it good and the other side bad, and decide for ourselves if it was worth it; and learn to live, or, perhaps, cope, with that decision.

Rarely does anyone enjoy the privilege of looking down from the high parapet of ultimate victory to survey a whole lifetime. Most people are craning their necks looking up, some with contempt, some with desire. All, however, at one moment or another, will imagine what the view would be like from their own high place. Many will even contemplate how they might actually climb there. Some might even test a rung or two against the weight of their personal burdens. A rare few, though, will dare to climb… inescapably destined to slip and fall, of course, and to call that failure.

The farther we fall, the more we understand the severity of life and what we really want from it. For it’s only upon finding yourself numbly cradling the shattered fragments of a dream, or a well laid plan for the future, or some previously certain wealth, when facing the icy realization that all you have left is unexpected misfortune, that you will truly be able to measure your resolve and expose yourself to failure again. If you’re willing to try again, you’ll have to sift through those jagged shards of disappointment, and find one with just enough workable surface to polish into a lens through which you might better perceive your way back up the steep and treacherous path of hope… inescapably destined to slip and fall again. Next time, however, you won’t be devastated. You’ll be tougher. You’ll recognize that single, brief slide backwards not as failure, but simply as a temporary redirection.

When you begin to think carefully about your next ascent, you’ll see that, as long as you’re still moving, you’re never actually failing. You’ll see that striving for anything worthwhile means constantly hurling yourself at failure and relying on its gravitational pull to propel you past it at the last second, and, hopefully, project you somewhere else. And, though you may miss your mark, you’ll find that you usually manage to avoid colliding with failure.

This phenomenon begs the question, when, then, have you actually failed? At what point do you stop and tally up the battles to know the outcome of the war?

Should failure be counted on one’s deathbed? At retirement? After establishing a more or less predictable career trajectory? Maybe that moment of reckoning comes when you’ve flung yourself at potential failure one time too many, exhausting your inertia and at last being drawn into the dark star of unmistakable defeat. When you yourself have become that fragile, broken remnant of a dream, is that true failure? Health issues aside, surely that’s improbable. Surely, no matter how dire your circumstances, some hope exists. Surely, some path, low though it may be, will lead to recovery. Surely, if you hang on long enough, someone can help you. Ultimate failure is as rare, it seems, as ultimate success.

Failure is neither the norm, nor is it an extreme. It’s a fluctuating condition of life. It’s fluid. It advances and retreats, and so do we. And that’s just the beautiful, cascading paradox of reality.

We at GFDA talk about failure so much because, in our own innumerable leaps toward glory, we’ve brushed against it many, many times. We’ve watched dreams crumble in our hands. We’ve climbed high and fallen hard. We, naturally, contend with failure every hour of every day just like you, and we’ve learned that the healthiest way to deal with difficulties is to share our feelings about them.

Seek treasures amid ruins.

Authored by Jason Richburg
GFDA Copywriter and Curriculum Director — Authors of “Do the F*cking Work: Lowbrow Advice for High-Level Creativity” Follow us on IG @GoodDsgnAdvice