This is a story I was hesitant to tell because it felt pretentious and condescending. This is a story close to my heart but after reading a number of experiences diametrically opposed to this story, I felt was necessary to share. This is a direct emotional response to Gita Jackson’s story on failure. This is the story of my mediocrity and failure.
I grew up with an older brother who was not only bigger than me but also better at video games. We both loved them but I was a slower kid and couldn’t get the timing right for fighting games.
Soulcalibur 2. I loved playing as Taki, Mitsurugi or maybe Nightmare if I was feeling cheeky. I remember playing against my older brother in a six-character-team-match and losing terribly. I wanted to win so badly. To prove that I can be good at this thing! To have satisfaction! But I didn’t. My brother was better at gaming than I was by what seemed like magnitudes. I challenged him over and over again in our parents’ basement and for his part he always accepted and never let me win out of pity. I suffered brutalizing defeat again and again. It crushed me to be so utterly useless and fail so completely. I remember crying my eyes out in the selection screen as I asked for another match, unable to walk away from the game.
I mentioned he was bigger because our fighting wasn’t limited to in-game. Being boys growing up on anime and Chinese martial arts flicks, we frequently fought tiny-fists-to-tiny-fists in our shared bedroom. He was easily twice my weight and over a foot taller. There was no way I could have won even a single match as he threw me across the room again and again. Humiliating defeat as I threw my entire body weight against his in futility. I remember trying to take running starts only to be thrown backwards from nothing more than a good stance and a shove. Here too I fought with tears in my eyes against an indomitable opponent.
I remember as a tiny Chinese boy, not quite four feet tall, trying to spit out the words “It doesn’t matter how many times you fall, only how many times you get back up!” through choked back tears (while gearing up for another run at my brother). Some such phrase I read on the internet or maybe from the end of an anime I watched too closely. Corny looking back now but even harder to remember the desperation in that conviction. I think if I'm honest with myself, I was a very romantic child and the only reason I didn't throw in the towel was probably some misguided notion that "heroes don't give up".
Like I said before, I’m not a particularly gifted individual. I was never the smartest, the quickest, or the strongest. I wanted to be these things, but they weren’t in my cards. Instead my childhood naïveté led me through a gauntlet of self-flagellation until I wasn’t afraid anymore. I became the opposite of risk-averse. As I grew older, the idealism faded but I already learned the value of resilience. But that’s a different story.
Looking back, I don’t want to say that “failure helps you grow”, that you should “fail fast”, or any other such snake oil that’s so popular these days. That would be disingenuous. I don’t necessarily think it was helpful to get thrown across rooms and get axe-kicked in the chest. I don’t even remember whether I eventually beat my brother at Soulcalibur or not. Probably, but it didn’t matter. What I did know, even back then, was that failure was inevitable. Failure in both games and in life, are terribly impersonal turns on the wheel of fate and it’ll hit you in the face with complete disregard. Sometimes they just happen. And I guess because of my own mediocrity, it was absolutely unavoidable and that I was going to have to plow through failure after failure before I got what I wanted.
Death and Taxes, right? I suppose it’s not what the ego wants, but for me — Failure wasn’t death, failure was life.