The benefit of embracing failure

This blog post is late – I wanted to write it this morning – because I had to make an emergency 400-mile road trip today.  Yes, that’s right.  A 400-mile (each way) emergency road trip.  And it couldn’t have tied in with a better post.

I recently finished a book by Oliver Burkeman called The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking.  I’m one of those people – a cynic irritated by those irrationally happy in the face of dismal circumstances – so I thought this would be a good book for me.

And to add to my cynic nature, I also have a BS in psychology.  I wrote my senior thesis on the link between money, motivation, and happiness.  So I know that the crap you learn in books like The Secret – if you want something hard enough it’ll magically happen – is completely false.

So if believing isn’t good enough to make you happy, what else is there?  Turns out it’s the complete opposite.  Just internalize this:

  • Life sucks sometimes.  Good things happen to bad people.  Bad things happen to good people, and they’ll happen to you, no matter what you try to do to prevent it (cancer, death, job loss, etc).
  • Just because bad things happen to you, does NOT mean you’re a failure.  It simply means life didn’t work out like you wanted; move on to plan B.
  • Even better, anticipate Plan B.  Plan C.  Plan D.  That way when something bad happens – when you fail, when life fails, when God fails, whatever – you can shrug your shoulders and move on.

Which gets me back to why I’m currently 400 miles from home.  I’m in the process of applying for grad school.  I thought I had everything in – references, essays and applications, transcripts – with a week to go before the deadline.  I was patting myself on the back when I received my school login info and saw that they hadn’t received one copy of my transcripts yet (but the department I’m applying to had).

I had several options to deal with this.  I could cry while calling every day, hoping that my transcript would magically appear in time.  Yeah, bad idea, especially because this program only takes students every 3 years.

Okay, plan B: request a new copy be sent.  Yes, but last time that took 10 days.  I have 1 week, and the school doesn’t expedite.

So I went with plan C: drive to my college (400 miles away) and pick up multiple copies of my transcript in person, then express mail one of them, hand deliver another (school I’m applying to is only an hour away), and still have an official copy in case I need one.

And thus here I am.  I won’t be a failure because I moved on to the next option.

What does this have to do with writing?  Everything!  When you submit a story, realize that there’s a good chance it’ll get rejected, especially when you send it to a market with a 2% acceptance rate (just got a rejection from a market like that today).  When you get a rejection, it doesn’t mean you suck as a writer and you should stop writing; it means you send your story out again.  It means you evaluate your story and make edits if needed, then send it out better than before.

Embracing failure means you realize you could fail, and you make contingency plans when (if) you do.

What do you think of this philosophy?

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