Well, it happened. I failed.
After 82 days of consecutive publishing, I missed a day.
Failure isn’t always as spectacular as this Gatorade commercial — which details the career-creating rookie mistakes of superstar athletes like Serena Williams, Michael Jordan, and the Manning brothers — would have you believe. Sometimes — or, perhaps, most of the time — failure is quite ordinary.
In my case, it was entirely un-sung, un-ceremonious, and un-called-for.
After 82 days of consecutive publishing on Medium — even as I planned a wedding, went on a honeymoon, maintained a mentoring practice, spent ten days off the grid in the desert, started grad school, and moved into a new house — I passed out on the couch before I could post. I’d been running on a few days of too-little sleep and thought these famous last words: “I’ll just lay here for a minute.”
My cat-nap turned into a much-needed good night’s sleep, and I woke up the next morning a failure.
This morning I wondered if it’s not the failure itself that becomes legendary like the ones in that Gatorade commercial. Maybe — like most things — it’s not the thing itself, but what you make of it.
I wonder what I will make of this failure.
Should I let it mean very little, and re-frame this failure as The Cost of Doing Business or dismiss it with a, “you win some you lose some.”
Will I treat it like a day off the wagon in a twelve-step program and simply give myself a new silver chip and begin again to publish, one day at a time?
Or shall I take this inherently tiny transgression — which frankly no one but me would have noticed had I refrained from immediately confessing it to my husband and then promptly writing about it —and blow it up like Rick Moranis and a toddler in a Disney threequel?
I can tell I’m afraid to blow it up. I’m scared to let this failure be meaningful.
It’s scary to let anything in life have meaning. Let’s not let ourselves be touched by life, lest we be moved in a direction we don’t want to go, lest we get hurt. But I would rather be moved that paralyzed. I would rather be hurt than numb. Hurt, I can work with. From hurt springs resilience.
That same Gatorade commercial — which is called “The Secret to Victory”- would also have you believe that failure’s primary function is its utility. Without their huge rookie mistakes, these celebrities claim, they never would have achieved the level of success they did. They had to fail in order to discover the grit they needed to succeed.
I don’t buy it (and I don’t just mean the Gatorade). Failure is not necessary to success. It’s just statistically likely. Dealing with failure in a constructive manner is necessary to success, in most cases, unless you’re one of those freakazoid people who got dealt a hand that didn’t involve failure.
But I wouldn’t trade my failure for anything. Not because of what it can teach me, how it makes me grow, or what I learn from it. I don’t value my failure because of its utility.
I value it simply because it’s an experience.
Life is to be experienced.
Otherwise, it ends up being something you survive.
Regardless of how you see my failure today — small, large, credibility-destroying, self-indulgent, irrelevant — I am experiencing it. I am riding the wave.
In one moment, I’m walking around in my cone of shame. In the next, I feel heroic, like a phoenix rising from some epic ashes. Then I’m laughing at myself for making such a big deal out of something so small.
In this moment, I’m rediscovering why I write. In the words of one of my mentors: Points don’t make habits. He’s referring to an assignment we give our first-year writing students, where they earn extra credit points for writing 365 words a day.
Giving myself points for completing a daily publishing challenge may have helped me achieve a 30-day streak, but it didn’t make me form a habit. The habit of writing came from embodying its rewards.
I have something to add to my mentor’s aphorism: While habits may make a person who writes, they don’t make a writer.
I may have a writing habit now. That much is clear. Now it’s time to become a writer.
It’s time to write for reasons other than to accomplish my daily publishing goal with integrity.
I’m not entirely sure what those reasons are, but I am beginning to enact them. I am beginning to live them, to be transformed by them.
It begins today.