Anudeep Durishetty, the topper of UPSC CSE 2017, took five attempts to ace his exam. There are also individuals who have given equal or more number of their wholehearted attempts to this exam, but haven’t made it. If all of them were to write their ‘CV of Failures’, the entry about their unsuccessful attempts would look very similar. However, there is one crucial difference. Most of us intuitively do not consider stories of struggle with happy endings as ‘failures’.
What is Failure?
The process of making anything worthwhile happen might involve a series of trials and errors. And even then, the end result might not always look exactly like what we had in mind, to begin with. For example, I got through a decent University in my law entrance, but it wasn’t NLSIU; bagged a corporate firm job, but it wasn’t the highest paying or the most sought after. I even managed to go for a fancy moot in a foreign country, but I never got to win it.
For all of their cumulative minor disappointments, these instances did not really feel like failure because the impact they could have had on my life, be it good or bad, was not completely decided. It was not set in stone. There was still scope left for doing more and make the circumstances work for the better.
I believe that very few people in the world have actually experienced a ‘real failure’ because what most of us misunderstand as failures are actually just temporary setbacks or even the inevitable trial attempts in making something worthwhile happen. A situation can be truly considered a failure only if all attempts to make it work have been finally abandoned.
Failing at Something vs. Being a Failure
When we understand failure as a situation that did not work out, sometimes even despite our best efforts, there is very little that is scary about the prospects of a failure. We learn from the process, eventually, settle for or start pursuing something else, and usually end up better than when we started. It is hard to be afraid of failing at something if we look at it this way.
However, most people do not look at failure in this way. For a variety of reasons, when we fail, we let our minds internalize it and it causes us to consider ourselves as failures. Instead of looking at failing like a verb that it is, we start seeing it as a noun and become a failure. It no longer remains something we did or something that might have happened to us, but starts defining what we are.
It is no wonder then that failing scares (the sh*t out of) us. As we are strong enough to tolerate failing at something, but not even the best of us can handle the mess that comes with being a failure.
Art of Failing Right
In his book, The War of Art, Author Steven Pressfield describes his experience of seeing his first professional writing job, one that he was extremely confident about, tank without mercy. He writes:
I was crushed. Here I was, forty-two years old, divorced, childless, having given up all normal human pursuits to chase the dream of being a writer; now I’ve finally got my name on a big-time Hollywood production …., and what happens? I’m a loser, a phony; my life is worthless, and so am I.
My friend … snapped me out of it by asking if I was gonna quit. Hell no! “Then be happy. You’re where you wanted to be, aren’t you? So you’re taking a few blows. That’s the price for being in the arena and not on the sidelines. Stop complaining and be grateful.”
That was when I realized I had become a pro. I had not yet had a success. But I had had a real failure.
The point Steven Pressfield is trying to make here is evident. What started for him as a spiral down to the void of being a failure, ended with an admiration for experiencing failure in pursuit of something important.
My CV of Failure
At this point, I have a confession to make. I have not experienced a ton of failure in my life.
And that is not a testament to some incredible ability to do everything I touch perfectly in the first instance itself, but an inability at making any serious efforts on things that scare me the most. I cracked the exams I needed to crack and did the jobs I had to do to make ends meet; but I always maintained a safe distance from things that I believed that if I fail at, would risk defining me as a failure.
This certainly has helped me avoid experiencing much failure, but it has also kept me from having had any real success. And that, I believe, deserves to be the most visible and best-formatted entry in my CV of failures.
This article was submitted to us by Nishant Nikunj (a pen name). The author wants to maintain their anonymity.
We need to bring out more such stories so that people who feel apprehensive have an outlet to talk and relate to. If you are somebody who could openly share your failures in public, please do so. If you want to do so under anonymity, that also works. You could make a CV (with your failures) and send it to us, or write about experiences from your life. Please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.