When I was in high school, I took my first Shakespeare class, and the first play we read was Measure for Measure. I remember having reservations about Shakespeare; when you’re a cocky teenager who has grown up with one guy held up as the end-all, be-all of storytelling, you suspect that perhaps his PR department was better than the man himself.
Then I came across this line:
Our doubts are traitors
And make us lose the good we oft might win
By fearing to attempt.
That concept hit me square between the eyes, and I fell in love with Shakespeare at that moment.
I think that much of what I’ve accomplished during my life, both professionally and personally, has been because I read that line at a time in my life when I could still look at one credo and say, “I can live by that,” rather than, as has been my wont in my later years, “Sounds good. Get in line.”
Someone wrote to me recently about her fear of failure, how she told herself that she can’t fail if she never tries, but realized also that she can’t succeed if she never tries… yet that didn’t seem to be enough to push her past her fear. This idea of failure being an opposing force to success is a quicksand we all fall into from time to time, and I think the reason it’s so hard to pull ourselves out is because it’s a false dichotomy. We see the chance of success as minuscule, whereas the chance of failure is pretty big, and the risk just isn’t worth the reward. We pair one against the other and use reason; it’s just not worth it.
Except… it is. And here’s why: Failure is not the flip side of success. It’s the key.
Seriously. I mean it. Failure is the key to success. Think about it. Failure sucks and it hurts and it makes us feel bad, but it also teaches us. It makes us better, it makes us stronger, it makes us smarter. It is the mentor we seek, the path we can’t see because it’s right in front of our faces.
Don’t be afraid of failure; embrace it.
You are a writer, and I’m here to give you good news. There is no risk of failure. Risk is when something might or might not happen; there is no risk here. You will fail. I guarantee it. You will get rejected. You will start a story only to find yourself in over your head and unable to finish. You will miss deadlines. You will screw up opportunities. You will write terrible, just god-awful prose, and you will fall.
And because you will do all of those things, some of them repeatedly, you will learn, you will grow, you will head out on the road and meet your potential head-on. The guarantee of failure is liberating; you don’t need to be afraid anymore, wondering if you will fail. You will, and that inevitability will bring with it meaning, excitement, fulfillment of destiny. You will be the best writer you can be, because you’re willing to learn what failure can teach you.
And that’s power, baby.
It’s not about failure vs. success. It’s about living the life you were called to live. It’s about giving the world the one thing only you can give it: the stories only you can tell.
Your doubts are traitors; they make you believe that failure is bad, when the reality is, it’s the only way forward.
See? That’s good news, right? Told you so.