On Failure

As the Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries says,

“Failure is not an option – it is mandatory. The option is whether or not to let failure be the last thing you do.”

If you’ve read the autobiographical posts, you know that I’ve had a fair share of exposure to the experience of failure. Honestly, any human of adult age who hasn’t been insulated by privilege and money has, but I’ve failed a lot. The Lost Decade was me deciding to let failure be the last thing I did, and The Hell Year was, at least in my eyes, me failing again – so much so that I ended it with the only solution I could see, removing myself from the situation and letting her hit rock bottom.

On the whole, it is better that I ended up going my own way; my life is significantly improved, as is my mental state, as are my prospects. From the perspective of my personal utility, it’s been quite good. Of course, this perspective requires taking a long-term view, and not taking count of what effect the experience had on her – while my understanding is that she did pull herself together, having my abandon her like that must have been crushing.

So yes, I consider that whole incident a failure of mine – I could have done far, far better. Instead, I focused on my pain, and assumed she could work out her problems herself. In light of this, I ask myself what I ask every time I observe a failure, mine or that of others: “What have we learned?”

I learned that I want to pay more and better attention to what’s going on in the heads of the people I care about. I learned that I want to be better at understanding people, and improving their situations. And I learned that sometimes, protecting people from the consequences of their decisions isn’t the best thing you can do for them.

I’ve noticed, in the last few weeks, that my depression seems to be building back up. My motivation has dropped quite a bit, I have less confidence, less faith in myself and my ability to have a positive effect on this world’s outcomes. My past failures have taught me that I don’t need to accept this as is. While I am going to and have been taking a hit on my output, I don’t have to give in to it. I don’t have to let it control me, and I won’t. I’m not going to let it turn into another spiraling failure that consumes me, because I’ve learned.

And you, dear reader? What failures have you lived through, and what have they taught you?

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