Failure is the New Black

One, two, three. One, two, three. 

The dancers glide across the floor as if floating on air.

One, two, three. One, two, three.

Intertwining bodies become one, twirling straight into the imagination as they sail across the dance floor, leaving a trail of mouths agape from those watching on the sidelines. This, is perfection in motion – the waltz – what a picture of beauty and grace.

If you are asked to picture the definition of success, what do you see? The examples, of course, will vary widely; everybody is looking to achieve something different. But for each example, no matter how they differ in content, there is one underlying narrative that keeps on bearing repeating: the classic story of failing, and failing again (before reaching the ultimate peak, of course).

Every successful person has at least one thing in common: they’ve got things wrong over and over again before finding the right solution.                                                                                                                                                                                                                         – Sir Richard Branson

This is the modern success story. To fail is not a mark of shame; it is a new right of passage, a badge of integrity. To be the stuff of urban legends, long strings of failures should precede you. And the more pathetic and spectacular those failures are, will only add to the narrative of how successful you then become. Look at Steve Jobs being fired from his own company, before falling back into grace to make Apple into the megalith it is today. It is the stuff movies are made of! (and incidentally, two are).

Yet with all this acceptance, even praise, of failing, why do our own failures never seem to measure up? Sure, it feels good to see our role models preach about failure as the precedent for success, but at the end of the day one thing hasn’t changed – failure itself. Forget the slogans and the business class advice (embrace your failures! make love to them!) failure, when you’re in the midst of it all, is horseshit. It is gut-wrenching fear, insecurity, a shattering of your own self-worth. When you are down there, dug deep into the trenches, there is nothing glamorous or romantic about it.

But failure is just part of the process! they said, It’ll be good for you! they said. Turns out it’s much harder to believe in that, when you don’t have the benefit of hindsight. After all, when successful people talk about their past failures, it’s in the past tense. Meanwhile in the present, they are talking about it from their private yachts. No one talks about failure during failure itself. It goes against our nature; we don’t like to look bad.

But that’s the real moment we care about when we talk about failure. The moment when the world looks dark and there is no light guaranteed at the end of the tunnel. When you don’t even know if you are moving backwards or forwards anymore. Who is going to shine a light on that moment? You sure won’t find this on Instagram.

Let’s call failure by name, and not just fun and games. It doesn’t arrive singing and dancing, it doesn’t contain the same lighthearted feel a Sir Richard Branson anecdote might suggest (himself a great success who advocates for failure). When you fail it does not feel good, and when you fail multiple times it becomes harder and harder to believe you can still keep getting back up.

But neither is failure the boogeyman, a monstrous black hole built to suck out all the sunlight. No, it is at worst a solar eclipse – utter and complete darkness while it is there, but the sun has not disappeared – eventually it will pass on. Failure is just a temporary state. It will change, and it will move on. Because, after all, people do succeed, and they succeed big, even after they have failed big too. And you better believe, that no matter how untouchably perfect the achievements of those with great success stories appear now, they who arrived there were once left feeling just as low, just as small, and just as helpless, as you.

The only man who never makes a mistake is the man who never does anything.”                                                                                                                                                                                            – Theodore Roosevelt 

When dancing the waltz, the steps involved essentially go one step forward, and two steps back, one step forward, and two steps back. When you watch it on the dance floor though, it is a dance that positively glides, smooth and rhythmic, floating in perfect lines. It all comes together to form the perfect whole, and you don’t even notice the two steps back. They are, after all, the fuel to propel that one step forward. Everything in its right time, everything in its right place. A setback is not a setback, it is the springboard to reaching greater heights. So if you are unsure right now on your feet, embrace your two steps back, and move forward beautifully!

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