This week's blog prompt--yes, I missed last week--asks if we are our own worst enemies when it comes to a fear of failure. That prompt leads me to this old joke:
Q. What's the difference between a pessimist and an optimist?
A. A pessimist moans, "Things just can't get any worse." An optimist cheerfully responds, "Sure, they can!"
We all fail. Failure and I are old, intimate friends. Some of us fail more frequently than others. Some of us handle it better than others. I think that we handle failure better as we get older because we learn our limitations, we understand what we cannot control vastly outweighs what we can control, and we have more practice in failing. We've figured out how to pick our challenges and battles so that the odds favor us.
I could be wrong.
I see this new writers who cling desperately to their manuscripts, the manuscripts they've worked on and tinkered with for years, the manuscripts they can't ever seem to finish, the most dreadful manuscripts ever produced. Let's face it, folks, no one's very first manuscript is any good. Mine certainly weren't.
Anyway, such authors cannot bear the thought of failure, so they refuse to admit they've learned everything they can from those experiments and take what they've learned to a new story. They won't abandon those first manuscripts.
I've long since outgrown that. I have a directory with over two dozen started-and-abandoned stories. I have old floppy disks full of manuscripts that will never see the light of day. I have a credenza with drawers full of printed manuscripts that will never be published. Because they suck. Each and every one of them sucks.
When I look failure in the face, I admit its supremacy and then try something else. The general outcome (e.g., publication) might be the same, but the specific goal and route to get there differ. For a non-writing example, let's take Diva, my "problem child" of a horse.
She's my latest big failure. I brought home a horse that I erroneously thought I could handle. I was wrong. I hired three trainers in succession. The first wasn't up to the challenge. Failure. The second never showed up. Failure. The third didn't do what she promised. Failure. So, I'm trying different tactics to either bring Diva to the point at which I can use her or to transfer her to the care of someone who can handle her. A teenager approached me about leasing her. That didn't work out. Failure. I've got a call scheduled with someone who is willing to trade her for one of her horses. We'll see how that works out. I've already tried that one and it didn't work out, but with a different person there's a chance for success.
Here's another example: I consider the 2019 Summer Book Fair a failure, although some of the participating authors don't, bless them for their kindness. However, we'll try again and apply what we've learned.
Are we our own worst enemies? Probably. But each failure teaches us lessons if only we remain open to learning. It's that learning process that justifies optimism, that irrepressible hope for success when we turn our focus to that next endeavor.