Monthly Archives: December 2009

Avoiding Failure, Avoiding Success

“Can I fail at this?” It’s like Raymond Chandler said: there is no success without the possibility of failure. Therefore, something I can’t fail at is also something I can’t succeed at. I can fail at conducting an interview, writing an essay or making a video. I can’t fail at meandering around the internet in search of “neat stuff to read.” In a recent tweet, I defined procrastination “the temporary displacement of tasks at which it is possible to fail with tasks at which it is not possible to fail.” I suspect I’m less far off the mark than ever, especially regarding why procrastination is not a productive tendency. – Colin Marshall via Ben Casnocha

I’m extremely failure-phobic. I’ve been fortunate to grow up being very good at very many things. From math to writing, from analyzing budgets to compassionately supporting rape survivors – I often feel like I can do about anything I put my mind to.

Except when I can’t. In my years of success, I’ve never learned how to fail, how to pick myself back up and try again until I’ve mastered something. I get easily overwhelmed with failure – even just the threat of failure – and often give up without even trying.

Learning Spanish has been such a struggle for me, despite having several native speakers in my life. When faced with speaking, my mind goes blank. I can’t think of any words at all, or the words I think of are in French rather than Spanish. My judging mind kicks in, “Why can’t you ever remember any words? You should be able to say something here. Just try, dammit!” Then I realize I’ve been staring blankly for a few seconds, and I’m embarrassed, so I say something in English just to start to fill the silence. And I fail again, and I don’t even want to try the next time.

Malcolm Gladwell makes a distinction between choking and panic in his discussion of “The Art of Failure.”

Panic, in this sense, is the opposite of choking. Choking is about thinking too much. Panic is about thinking too little. Choking is about loss of instinct. Panic is reversion to instinct.

Forgetting every lick of Spanish I’ve ever known is panic, or what scientists call perceptual narrowing. But I’m also terrified of choking while doing something I can actually do very well normally. Take writing this blog. When trying to write, I don’t have the problem of my mind going blank. Instead I second guess my writing, over think my strategy, and lose my instinct about what I know is good, engaging writing.

Whether it’s panic or choking that I’m afraid of, the only path to success is to get past this fear so I can fail and fail again. I must remember the questions I ask everyone else, from Tim Ferriss’ 4-Hour Workweek: What’s the worst thing that could possibly happen if I do this? How likely is that really?

In the spirit of New Year’s Resolutions: What are you willing to fail at this year? For me:

  • Weekly blog posts
  • A daily meditation practice
  • Asking for too much time off of work
  • Working less, making more

The theme of the year? Consistently showing up for myself.

The Art of Failure, microchip-style
The Art of Failure, microchip-style PHOTO: Seng Hin Tan


For Your Health: Don’t Say “I Do”

News flash: If you are independent and like to have a lot of control over you life, it might be bad for your health to get married.

“If you look at never marrieds who are high on mastery — they feel like they are in the driver’s seat and in control of their lives — and high on self-sufficiency — they know how to take care of themselves — they actually have better emotional well-being than married people” – Jamila Bookwala, author of a study on people over 40 who never married

Don’t Herd Me On Trajectory

The best summary of “Off Trajectory” that I’ve seen:

Please understand that I am not against family, marriage, children, or even romance. I am merely against the idea that we should all be herded into that mode of relating when there are viable, satisfying alternatives.Peter McWilliams

Deepen Your Love by Breaking Up. Really.

Love is a state of connectedness, one that includes vulnerability, surrender, self-valuing, steadiness, and a willingness to face, rather than run from, the worst of ourselves. – Geneen Roth

How is it that my connection with someone can deepen when I say, “We don’t belong together”? It runs completely counter to my intuition that breaking up, again, with someone can leave me feeling closer to them.

Yet that closeness, that connectedness comes from facing what is real. It can be the reality of our darker motives, or the reality that two people can love each other but not be a good match to build a life together. Facing reality together deepens the connection. Even when facing reality severs that connection.

My friend Aaron once said, “There’s love, and then there’s logistics.” Some partnerships may be full of love, but if your partner can’t pay his bills while you are investing, or your partner wants to buy a farm while you want to move to the city – the logistics are sometimes too complicated to be overcome. The romantics might say, “But Love conquers All!!!!” I suppose if you are willing to let yourself, your own goals and desires be conquered by Love – then sure, love conquers all. Especially you.

I feel like life throws enough challenges in my way. If I’m ever going to build a partnership with someone to move through life with, I’d like to at least start with most of our foundational pieces being aligned. The question is – is there really anyone out there who aligns perfectly with my values?

Prelude: What If?

What if you were about to meet your perfect lover?

What if you knew this lover better than anyone else in the world, and this lover knew you better than anyone else?

What if you liked the same food, loved the same movies, listened to the same music, rooted for the same teams, enjoyed the same friends, were fascinated by the same books, had the same spiritual beliefs, cared about the same causes, and shared the same goals?

What if you absolutely knew you two could live together comfortably?

What if this lover always had your best interests at heart?

What if you were brought before a large door and told that, behind the door, was the love of your life?

You straighten your hair, pop a Certs, take a deep breath, open the door and find yourself face-to-face . . .

…with a mirror.

– Peter McWilliams in Love 101