What is failure?

The word can mean many things, but it seems to universally, across its myriad uses, have a strongly negative connotation – at least to my mind. I suppose there’s an argument to be made that a failure is just an opportunity for growth, an obstacle to be learned from and then overcome, that it’s not really wholly negative at all. Nonetheless, the silver lining on the proverbial cloud doesn’t change the fact that it’s still a cloud, and doesn’t necessarily keep it from raining on your parade in the first place. (Disclaimer: I’m writing this blog post while not in the best of moods – in case you couldn’t already figure that out from the post’s title or tone – so take any perceived pessimism with a grain of salt, and not as a reflection of my outlook on life generally.)

We can all think of things that we associate with failure, the economy being the big one right now but of course it’s by no means the only prominent example. You could look at a political campaign – whether presidential or one against a certain state proposition – and call it a failure… though in the former case you might be happy it – or rather, he – failed (if you share my particular political inclinations) whereas the failure of the latter could render words like “angry,” “discouraged,” and “resentful” hard-pressed to accurately describe your (or my) emotions. Talk about politics as personal, huh? (At least for the one side, but that’s a topic for another post.) Or about politics as exemplifying how success for one means failure for another. If one person wins, another has to lose? (There’s that pessimism again.)

While the economic and political arenas can usually provide us with plentiful chances to use the word “failure,” they obviously haven’t cornered the market on inadequacy and defeat. Failure is oftentimes a lot closer to home, to the extent that a person could talk about “feeling like a failure.” What does that even mean, though? At what point does one go from “human being” to “failure”?

I could think up all kinds of life situations & all sorts of psychological motivations that could have a person consider themself a failure, but ultimately, though I do (apparently) like to write and ramble, I should come to the point that makes most sense for me at this time, the one that inspired this post. And that is this: I think “failure” isn’t just about attempting something and not succeeding. It’s not just about making mistakes or goofing up, and not about trying but not quite managing to achieve your goals. It’s definitely not about money or votes, and it’s not even about how many people (don’t) find you attractive enough or interesting enough to talk to.

It is instead about change – or more accurately, the lack of change. It’s about not moving forward, not going anywhere. It’s about not succeeding not because you screwed up or didn’t have what it took, but because you didn’t make the attempt to begin with. It’s about not growing, not reaching, and not doing.

Failure, at its worst, happens when nothing happens at all. Even if the alternative means having to get rained on once in a while.

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2 Responses to Failure

  1. Natasha says:

    I agree-failure is about inertia as much as it is about lack of accomplishment, whatever that accomplishment might be. My biggest fear is ending up alone and uncared about, not because I mind my own company, but rather because it would mean I failed at making a mark with people/on the world…

  2. Erik says:

    Hey Natasha, thanks for the comment. :) I think you really hit the issue on the head: “inertia” is the perfect word to describe what I was trying to say.

    And though I can very well understand the fear about not “making a mark,” I don’t think you have to worry about that. You already have.

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