Recently, I’ve become obsessed with the idea of failure. The common words associated with failure are: disappointment, let-down, catastrophe. No wonder we’d rather live a cautious life rather than one of risk.
My first memory of failure was when I was eight – struggling to understand the concept of maths.
The sense of failure was a heavier burden to bear than others because, well, aren’t all Asians good at maths? My parents were baffled by this concept; my father runs his own business and checking the books is just part of the job, so he took it upon himself to personally teach me. Teaching me drove my normally very patient father to the brink. He started at first explaining breezily in his calm manner but each time I answered a question wrong, he would unconsciously rap the table in an irritable fashion. As more wrong answers occurred with an alarming frequency, he would slump back in his chair letting out the occasional curse in Cantonese.
The prickling sensation of shame for disappointing my father was enough to make me despise maths for the rest of my academic career. It’s easy to take the easy path and avoid the things that cause you anxiety and make you uncomfortable. At any age, it’s hard to embrace your flaws and accept the things you aren’t good at, and to comprehend why you struggle to much with multiplication tables when your friends seem to grasp it with ease.
Since then, failure and I have become well acquainted. It happens because I’m human and I make mistakes. I’ve made mistakes in my professional life, when I should have really listened to my heart, but settled for comfort. And in the romantic sense, when I should have listened to rational thoughts but chased that good-for-nothing douchebag anyways.
But here’s my opinion, I think we are facing catastrophe; an identity crisis, because we are letting our discomfort and fear of failing take over our lives. And I don’t know why more people aren’t talking about it. I have such talented friends that could achieve anything they want. And yet, too many times have they been lured away from what they really want to do, to settle for something meagre because they are afraid to fail.
I can’t count the number of times someone has told me of their plans to become an accountant. No offence to accountancy, but how many kids have tugged impatiently on a parent’s arm and said, ‘When I grow up, I want to become an accountant!’
At what age do we stop believing in ourselves, stop dreaming and start settling? Does it begin with school when we receive an exam paper covered in angry, red marks? And does it end with us counting down the days until retirement, when we can begin to live? I’m going to tell you a true story: A family friend of mine absolutely hated his job but of course, he had all his reasons for why he couldn’t quit. He was always telling us about his retirement plans; how he would travel and discover the world at his own pace. The tragedy was, he died the day before he was due to retire and never got to complete his bucket list.
I’m not deliberately trying to alarm you, but so many people are willing to settle for a life that is safe when we should be fighting against the very notion. What will your tombstone read? Here lies Steve a perfectly competent accountant.
Ok, some of you might say “My job isn’t my life, what about a work-life balance?” I scoff at the notion of work life balance. We spend more time with our colleagues than we do our family. Most of us typically work Monday to Friday with the weekends being our only free time. That accounts to over 70% of our time at work. That’s a huge amount of time doing something that isn’t your passion.
Whenever I’m in doubt of following the right path, I just remember this quote: “Passion is your greatest love. Passion is the thing that will help you create the highest expression of your talent. Passion, interest — it’s not the same thing. Are you really going to go to your sweetie and say, ‘Marry me! You’re interesting.’” – Larry Smith (Watch this Ted Talk that will change your life or at the very least, make you laugh).
Fear of failure doesn’t just affect our choices when it comes to our careers, it seeps into our personal life too. The boom of Tinder has been so successful because it eliminates our fear of rejection. We hide safely behind thumbnail pictures and a witty one-liner bio. And if we are ever rejected, our fragile egos are protected because we will never know. Eliminating risk and fear is not necessarily a good thing. Does it not trivialise dating; reducing it to an act as ubiquitous as ordering a takeaway? What do I fancy tonight, an Italian? An Indian?
So how do we defeat failure? You don’t. You welcome it as a guest; like the unwanted second cousin that always shows up for Christmas. You do your best to accept her as graciously as you can. You accept that failure is inevitable, because despite what society tells you, it is near impossible to succeed at everything the first time. Look how much shit Harry had to go through before he finally defeated Voldemort. I’m not saying the path is easy, but is anything easy actually that’s worthwhile?
Nobody wants to be a failure. But I don’t want to be sitting on the sidelines too afraid to try because I’m scared: I’d rather dive in, head- first- heart- racing chasing after the things I want, living without regret. I’ve defied traditional gender stereotypes by asking out that cute guy and I’ve asked for a pay rise that I felt I deserved. I got rejected by the boy and the boss which momentarily left me feeling like an eight year old schoolgirl again- knees knocking with sweaty palms. And yet I survived. The outcome may not have been ideal but I learnt that each time I dare myself to do something that scares me, I grow bolder. Failure isn’t a real concept and it certainly doesn’t have to define you. It may have taken me longer than most but I definitely know my multiplication tables now and my father hasn’t disowned me. It’s how you deal with setbacks that make you grow as a person. I’m still going to ask out guys and one day, a smart guy is going to say yes. With each ‘failure’, I learn I’m capable of more than I think I am. So I continue on my way kicking ass, chanting the immortal lines of Yeezy, ‘Now that don’t kill me,can only make me stronger!’