Fail Big

I’m really bad at losing and failure. Really, truly awful. When I was a kid I would cry angry tears when I lost stupid games. Nowadays, I lie on the floor angrily when my sportsball team loses. When I lose at something, it’s never like, “Wow, nice effort. Good game! I’ll get you next time!” It’s more like, “This friendship is over. You’re dead to me. Get out of my house.”

This behavior is occasionally funny to people, but mostly it’s a pain in the ass. It’s also tiring to care that much about succeeding and winning in nearly every arena. This mindset is paralyzing. Why would I take a big risk at something new when I could fail spectacularly? What if people find out that I’m human and am not very good at some things? What if the truth is that I’m actually bad at everything?! WHAT IF I AM A PERSONIFIED FACE-PLANT?!?!

My truest self

I don’t normally do New Year’s resolutions because they imply that there is something wrong with me and/or my behavior. However, this year, I will make an effort to embrace failure, even spectacular failure.

Over the years, I’ve taken baby steps like enjoying the participation factor in party games or the drinking/fried food factor in bowling instead of focusing on winning. But when it comes to The Big Things, like applying for jobs or submitting writing, I become terrified of failure. This leads to me to think about what I need to do to not fail. While that may not sound so bad, it usually means I make more conservative choices, underestimate my ability, and end up compromising when I rather wouldn’t.

A good example of poorer quality caused by fear of failure is when I played oboe in high school. My teacher noticed that when I came to a difficult passage my breath support would waver along with my confidence. Even if I didn’t make any errors, the entire passage sounded hesitant or even off-key. His advice? Fail big. If you make a mistake, make it loudly then move on; the rest of the piece suffers less that way. So far it has just been a matter of applying this idea to the rest of my life.

Failure is part of the learning process, which, unfortunately, I never felt was a real option until recently. I used to believe* that any failures were a reflection on me as a person (or me as representative of women, people of color, people my age, etc.) Action is stymied when the cost of failure is so high. However, there is also the cost of failure avoidant behavior – aiming low, playing it safe, convincing yourself that you don’t want the things you actually want.

It’s not like I’ve ever been that super-cool, immune-to-looking-dumb person. So the time has come to:

Now, I’m not saying that suddenly I will no longer be awful at losing. I’ll probably still hate losing and failing. I will not become a paragon of sportsmanship because I’m trying to make peace with failure. But I could improve; you can’t fall off the floor.

*It’s actually a work in progress, but I couldn’t figure out what kind of complex verb tense I’d have to use for that sentence to be completely truthful.

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