Essays on Technology and Culture

Give Yourself Over to the Failure Inside of You

Give yourself over to the failure inside of you, and let it envelop your soul.

Failure is not out to get you. Failure wants to be your friend, the one you can count on when success, that is ever elusive, eludes you.

King Missile III – “Failure”

Before you read this piece, take a few minutes, and listen to this song.



My father always told me that you only own two things in life: your failures, and your word. You can’t even take credit for your successes, because someone else will try to hog the spotlight. Nobody wants to claim someone else’s failures. You’re stuck with them. That’s what us so terrified to fail. As for your word, you own that too, because if you fail to keep your word, well…

Problem is, being afraid of failure keeps us from doing pretty much anything. We only manage to do those things that we’re confident of our ability to not fail. I can be reasonably sure that if I walked to the kitchen and got a cookie, I could eat that cookie successfully. If I went into the kitchen and tried to make a batch of cookies, that I’m not sure about. I don’t know if I have the ingredients, the tools, and the time. I don’t know if I can remember a good cookie recipe. So, if I were to go into the kitchen, blind, and try to make cookies, I would almost certainly fail.

This is a slightly absurd comic example, but the same could be applied to almost anything. Failure is a permanent state, only in the sense that you can’t change the past, and that you have to deal with the consequences. Consequences may last a long time, or they may not. Dirty dishes, and carbonized “cookie” on a baking sheet are temporary. Unless you’ve done something particularly terrible or outright criminal, however, there’s no “Permanent Record” to dog you. Only yourself.

Failure wants you to get over your fear of failure—and what better way to do that than to fail and fail again?

If at first you don’t succeed…

How many times have you tried to do something and failed? Anything. Small things. Big things.

It’s probably a very big number, unless you don’t do anything.

But, what do you take away from those failures?

First, you know what not to do next time, which will reduce your chances of future failures. After all, as Merlin Mann says, “The beginning of expertise is going ‘Oh! I’ve dealt with this problem before!’” Often this means “I’ve tried to do this before, and I know what doesn’t work.”

You have to own your failure, because only by doing so will you recognize those chances that come up where you can fail in exactly the same way you failed before. You can still fail in an entirely different way, but that’s okay. Pick yourself up, wipe yourself off, and fail again in another way.

Or, perhaps, succeed.

But most likely not. And that’s okay.

So befriend it. Make love to it. And believe in it with all your might. Because failure is all there is for you.

(With apologies to John S. Hall.)