aNewDomain — Well, you failed.
You didn’t think it was possible. I mean, you tried so hard. Everything was against you, but you dug in your nails, gave it everything.
And you failed.
The agent said no. The editor gave you great feedback on your manuscript and totally let you down so gently it didn’t seem like a no, but the answer was no. You got fired. You lost a case. Your girlfriend is leaving you.
You got a D in the class. Mucked up the final or missed too much work or something.
You embarrassed yourself in the race or the talent show or the beauty contest. Or at the business dinner, in front of everyone who matters.
So yes, you failed.
And now what? Here’s what to do after you fail …
Give up. Or don’t give up.
Yeah, man. It happened to you. You weren’t good enough, or strong enough, or fast enough. OK, you’re mortal. It had to happen sometime. The question is, now what?
Two choices: Give up or don’t give up.
Giving up is easy. Just chuck it. Delete your novel from your hard drive. Set it on fire. Or toss it in the waste paper basket, destroy it like Stephenson did with his first draft of Jekyll and Hyde.
Walk away. Quit the running club. Donate your bikini glue to Goodwill and grow a unibrow.
That’s a quitter’s word: Whatever. But go ahead, say it if you need to and quit if you want to.
Otherwise, don’t quit.
If you don’t give up, don’t let yourself get fixated. That’s the ticket to darkness.
As for not quitting, there are probably functional and dysfunctional ways to persevere.
On the dysfunctional side of not quitting you’ll find overpersistence. Like stalking. I know that can be endlessly appealing. It feels good for awhile. But at some point your irrepressible spirit and persistence turn from romantic to threatening, passionate to creepy, wholehearted to darkly obsessive.
She said “no,” but you can’t get her off your mind. The interview went well, but they went with another candidate.
So you keep calling and calling, walking past the door, trying to catch a glimpse of somebody, just the side of her face, really, or her new lover, or the candidate they chose who can’t be better than you.
This isn’t good. It’s a sickness, really. An illness. Don’t do this. Don’t.
It’s true some people never give up. One municipality stopped issuing marriage licenses at all to prevent having to comply with the law. People quit their clerk positions and other offices to prevent having to comply with the law. States nibble endlessly around the edges of the voting rights act. But same-sex marriage is the law of the land now. Voting rights for people of color are the law of the land and have been so for well more than a century. Some things you can’t live with, even when shirking them is just plain irrational or wrong.
Persistence isn’t always a good thing. Sometimes you’re on the wrong side of things, period. The sooner you open up to that and accept the hard truth, the better. I promise.
Don’t be a martyr. Please.
Yes, there are the people who finish marathons on broken legs.
Can this possibly be good for you?
Aren’t you then sacrificing long-term viability in order to complete this one single race, at this instant of time? I’m all for life in the moment, but this isn’t wisdom.
Students do this to me sometimes. Debate every possible point in the course. Tell me the stakes, what they have riding on this grade, all the hardships they have endured. And it all tears me up inside. That’s because I care. I care about them.
But, in the end, a D is not a C. There’s only so much I can do, particularly after the fact.
In the end, these students must be able to turn to face this failure, persistence notwithstanding. Do diligence to persistence and then: Let it go.
Because at some point you’re styling yourself as the pig-headed Creationist who is still trying to argue the basic facts of existence against long-established fashion. No, dinosaur bones are not misinterpretations by scientists who hate the Bible. No, people didn’t evolve from chimps but from a no-longer extant common ancestor. No, no, no no.
No more appeals. Just stop it. It’s stupid.
And it does you no favors.
At some point, get ready to give up all those fruitless appeals. Let it go.
What about it? At some point you have to give up the appeals. Look, she doesn’t like you. If you really like her beyond wanting to possess her, then live with it. Let her go.
So they hired someone else: That really is personal and it hurts, but it’s okay. You can go all sour grapes on it but the truth is you really might have been happy there, you might have gotten along, but they had to make a decision. Perhaps it was the wrong decision, but no matter. They made one.
Your novel still lives in your desk drawer. Or you didn’t get a tiara.
So you failed. Today, you failed. Be cool and march forward.
Now set some smaller goals.
Does failing make you a failure? Of course not. That’s silly.
Of course failure affects you. But it isn’t you. You’re a human being. Of course failure is going to affect you.
You’re a human, not a goldfish. So you feel, and you can choose. You get to choose exactly how to be affected by experiences.
So ask yourself: Did you make mistakes? Did you over-enroll, miss a step, underprepare?
You can choose to re-evaluate your goals, too. Are you really ready for that full-time professorship? Maybe you are. But if you decide, on reflection, that you’re not, think. Maybe some adjunct work will get you toward your goal?
Are you really ready for that book deal, or do you need to spend some time contemplating about exactly how to introduce dramatic tension into your stories?
Do you objectively have a horrifying unibrow that no amount of plucking and foundation can conceal? Were you rude or abusive to your girlfriend? Did you actually hate your job and that showed up in your work or work product?
If so, set smaller goals. Attain them and keep edging ever closer to the ultimate goal.
Or should you try again for the big goal you failed at? Maybe, if …
Were you so close that you know if you just tried again, this time you would make it? Was circumstance or personality issues really the only thing that stood in the way of your progress, that caused you to fail?
You know, delays are expensive and disheartening. But they are strictly temporary.
Try to get a little perspective on what happened.
In the end, I suggest reflection.
Maybe you got into this in the first place because you don’t have time for reflection – in which case, what’s the point? Make time, or find it. In the shower, on the John, while you pull on your big-girl pants one leg at a time.
You are a mortal being, prone to failure. You’re made of meat, of edible flesh. And shit happens. To you, to all of us.
Sometimes people won’t like you. Sometimes you’ll take on more work than you can accomplish. Sometimes the boss or the lover or the judge will be flat out wrong about you. You’ll be right, but what about it. They can still dump you, that’s their right.
Sometimes you’ll swim out beyond your ability to swim back.
Remind yourself that when you lose, underperform, get rejected or fired, what have you, the world keeps turning right along.
Look up. The stars wheel overhead, right there, almost ageless in their stately, uncaring majesty. And grass right now grows neatly over the patch of ground you’ll eventually be buried in.
Let go of fairy tales for a minute.
Yes, your failures are costly. They cost time, energy, money, maybe more. And there aren’t always going to be equal or better opportunities on the other side, either. There really isn’t a God opening and closing doors to direct you to where you’re “supposed to be.” That’s a fairy tale.
Risk doesn’t always lead inexorably to reward, and hard work doesn’t always lead unerringly to success.
And acceptance and humility are good for all of us, ultimately. Study after study shows that people who are able to reflect on their experiences and make active decisions based on those experiences are the ones who are happy at age 65 and beyond. And ideally, you’ll make it to that age. You want to be happy and satisfied with what you’ve done and how you’ve handled things up to that point if you do make it to 65 or 75 or 85 …
You’re disappointed at your failures not because you’re short-sighted or self-absorbed or lack perspective, you know.
You’re disappointed because you care, and that’s good: That’s connectedness. And that’s key information you need to grow. That’s why, really, you’re so tempted sometimes to throw up your hands and yell, I give up! It’s easier to pretend you don’t care, to salve your wounded feelings then it is to deal with them, make a decision and move forward.
But you must.
The trick is to be humble without being humiliated. If you can manage that, you can and will bounce back.
So, stop. Think. Reflect. Meditate, cogitate, even ruminate. Write, rage, shake your finger at the fates. Do it until you’re done.
I’d stop short of perseverating but do that too, if you need to.
And then, when you’re ready, get up. Stand up. Brush the metaphorical dirt off your backside and make a decision and enact it.
For aNewDomain, I’m Jason Dias.
Image credits, in order of appearance: Cover image – BeautifulDecay.com, All Rights Reserved; Inline images – YouTube, All Rights Reserved; Stuff.co.nz, All Rights Reserved; Proomega blog, All Rights Reserved; The FriendlyAtheist blog, All Rights Reserved;