I’m a Failure

It’s true, at least in my own mind. There are so many things I have tried to do, create, kill, best, hold onto… but in the end you will inevitably experience failure exponentially more than success.

Or will you?

I’ve been reading a collection of essays called We Learn Nothing by Tim Kreider, a cartoonist and periodic New York Times Columnist. They express his thoughts on many of the realities we as a culture prefer to not think about (i.e. people are definitely talking about you behind your back, and you will definitely die, etc.). The essays carry a heavy dose of black humor but provide a surprisingly positive and empowering aftertaste.

While reading these essays I don’t really feel like I am learning anything, rather I feel like realities I was always aware of are being dusted off and placed in front of my eyes again, forcing me to acknowledge and think about them. One essay deals with the after-effects Kreider experienced following being stabbed in the neck, believing his life was over and surviving. He touches on the idea of how it is so damn hard to hold onto positivity; how positive outlooks, no matter how monumental, always seem to be so fleeting.

Humans are this singularly unique case on earth where our cognitive minds are almost equally as in charge of our decision making as our instincts. (The “singularly unique” claim is debatable, specifically when discussing with late 20-something dog / cat owners without children.)

We tend to acknowledge and embrace any major success briefly, basking in the glory of achievement for a fraction of the time it took to reach it. This makes sense at first glance, no one wants to be the Chicago shoe salesman on the wrong side of 40 who constantly reminds you they once “scored four touchdowns in a single game” in the city championship for the Polk High Panthers back in ‘66. It makes sense not to dwell on past successes so we can move forward and work on our next challenge, right?

Well, do me a favor real quick; take a second and think about your last major successes or achievements (please note: plural). Make a quick list in your mind.

That was nice, right?

Now make another quick list in your mind, think about your recent failures.

Which list is longer?

If you answer “the successes” then you‘re either a liar, the most self-aware person around (call me, help me!) or horribly self-involved… not really, I’m just jealous.

In my experience a failure resonates much clearer, catalogued in my mind with meticulous detail, citing every pivot-point leading up to the final judgement that my attempt was indeed a failure. I find myself dwelling on these details for months, years or even the remainder of my life. (Make fun of my rain boots again 4th grade bully at Taco Bell. I got a really good comeback for your self-righteous ass.)

Why can’t we put the same amount of emphasis on our successes? One theory from the scientifically sound and indisputable Robot Blocks states:

Maybe we’re wired that way to maximize longterm survival. Our negative chemical feedback loop was created to force us to learn from (our mistakes) to avoid them in the future, (hence we dwell on our failures most). But now our problems aren’t life/species threatening, and we let it encourage us to ignore/run away from our successes.
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I have not researched any of this to define whether or not it is scientifically accurate, but it makes sense to me and pairs with the way I’ve observed humans to react to both success and failure throughout life.

So what does this mean; we’ll always just focus on failures and essentially be predisposed to be crotchety Negative Nancies? Maybe, but remember, “Humans are this singularly unique case on earth where our cognitive minds are almost equally as in charge of our decision making as our instincts are.” We can choose to focus on the positivity; we can attempt to relish our successes a bit more consciously.

You will fail. Love is hard. Work is hard.  Keeping your mind engaged on one task for 10 solid minutes is hard.

You will also succeed.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯   Maybe this time you will dwell on it a little longer.

Scott Ladue is a Project Manager at We Are Mammoth which he enjoys oh so much. His eclectic, somewhat odd (and sometimes NSFW) endeavors and interests can be observed through his other social media presences: Tumblr – boatlife.tumblr.com, Instagram – @laduesco33, and Twitter – @laduesco.

4 responses to “I’m a Failure

  1. So – I have a great example of this. One of our C level Execs does a lot of conferences, industry events, etc. and he’s an incredible public speaker. At one of the events he spoke at a few years ago, they did some surveys on his presentation/speech. 99% of them came back w/glowing reviews, really positive comments and things anyone would be proud to read about themselves. However there was one or two (out of hundreds) that said he looked at his notes too much (or something along those lines) and I can remember him really focusing on those few negative comments, trying to figure out how he could do better the next time, and questioning the entire speech. It was really interesting to me, as an outsider looking in, to watch someone go through the emotions of negative feedback, even when coupled with a large percentage of very positive feedback.

    Anywho – just wanted to share an example of this in action.

    Great write up. You have an affinity for the written word, Scott – I had no idea!

  2. Thanks Spring!

    Yeah, I think this whole idea of “what can I improve upon” is a very temperamental balance between healthy and unhealthy. On one end you want to improve and always see yourself as an unfinished product with never-ending opportunities to “get better”. On the other, what if your coworker focused so hard on memorizing his speech next time and lost his natural charisma a bit?

    I wish I knew when to dwell and when to just grab a whiskey and relax :).

  3. I find it’s hard to know whether I’ve failed or succeeded since we don’t get A through F grades anymore. As a result, I feel stuck in a “I thiiiiiink I did a good job…?? ish… ?” state.

    I suppose everything is a bit of both, so you celebrate the praise and validation you get but try to learn from any shortcomings as well.

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