I think of the relationship between failure and expectations like the classic debate of which came first, the chicken or the egg.
They do a dance, sneaking side-eye glances at each other to see who is going to make the first move, frenemies of sorts.
The theme of failure has come up a lot in my life, whether in my doubts and lack of confidence in myself, or in others’ stories of fearmongering their dreams, talents, and passions. Failure plagues us all in different ways, but it tends to stem from those closest to us; ourselves.
So… how does failure become a friend?
How do I learn more about failure?
How can failure be fun?
When I think of failure, it’s usually self-inflicted with more emotions than the neutral position it actually holds. Failure, by definition, is the state or condition of not meeting a desirable or intended objective and may be viewed as the opposite of success. The second part, which tends to be forgotten often or misread, the criteria for failure depends on the context, and may be relative to a particular observer or belief system.
So in short, failure is only failure because you believe it is.
So, what do I believe about failure? What do I see in failure? If I’m being honest, I learned at a young age that failure is imperfect and ugly and threatening, and not cool.
Let me rewrite that. I taught myself at a young age that failure is imperfect and ugly and threatening and not cool.
Thus, we protect ourselves from inevitable failure by setting up expectations. Whether that’s mental expectations that we aren’t going to make it the next time we try, or expect to get hurt before we even start, failure and expectation tend to be partners in a vicious cycle. Setting up expectations to not fail only makes the “failure” piece and being further away from success even harder.
When I fail, what changes in me? Well truthfully, nothing changes, externally or internally. The colors of my eyes don’t change, the number in my bank account or the number of unread emails don’t change, and I don’t automatically fall into a dark pit with a big FAILURE sticker on my forehead staring up at the sky.
Coming back to old places, facing old friends, closing certain chapters, I’ve built up expectations of how I think the next chapter may look, sound, feel. Each scenario, conversation, action I have built up in my head has had a medium veil of failure over it which has made each thought more hopeless and scary. Maybe it’s some source of self-regulation and protection from the worst, but I’ve realized with each renewed friendship, creative vision, inspiring conversation, and surprisingly peaceful day that my dislike towards failure has only made shadows of big scary monsters that never existed in the first place.
I’ve listened to friends speak of the fear of failure lately and I get sad when I see their truest selves getting blocked by this imaginary obstacle. And yet, I add consistently add fuel to the failure fire.
Failure is a static noun. Not a verb. It’s a thing that happens. It will always happen. Whether I expect it to be as powerful or impactful over my life is up to me. The only way to get more comfortable with something uncomfortable is to spend more time with it so here I am, letting go of expectations on what something may or may not be. Welcoming failure in ways I may not want or know, but as a friend I hope to get to know more of.