It’s More Compelling to Write About Failure Than Success
I once participated in a series of talks called The Failure Dialogs. Entrepreneurs gave short talks about their failures, often quite humorous, in hindsight. I told one of mine and got quite a few laughs, though the actual experience had been painful at the time it took place.
The interesting thing about those talks (and I don’t know any entrepreneurs or artists who couldn’t give one) was not the failure itself. It was the aftermath. The learning experience.
Success is boring
The startup community in the city where I live, like many, likes to have successful entrepreneurs talk at panels and Ted-type talks about their road to success. The failure talks were much more interesting, though most success stories usually include a great deal of failure. It is the failure stories that make the success stories more interesting.
Everywhere we go online we hear advice about getting ahead, personal growth, making more money while working less, or making money by working way too much. These stories, often based on unoriginal bragging or exaggeration, are boring. They’re boring in the same way pretty paintings are boring. They don’t really tell us anything useful, they don’t challenge our way of seeing the world, or they are just a way of wasting our attention.
Mistakes are just as important as luck
Inevitably, when I look at the big mistakes I’ve made in my life, I see turning points, junctures where I had to reassess my decisions and choices. Each of these turning points led to improvement, eventually, though it was often difficult to see past them at the time.
I’m not big on the concept of luck. Nor do I believe talent is critical, though I freely admit it exists in some, not all, people. Or it may reside in all of us, but it has to be found and cultivated through hard work and commitment.
The problem with luck is that it comes in two flavors. In my experience those with good luck had to go through some bad luck to get there. But honestly, I do not really believe in luck, good or bad, because it implies that things simply happen to people at random. This may be true when you win the lottery, but in life we are almost always responsible for our own fortunes.
The inability to learn from failure is a big problem
Most of us know a person or persons who seem to constantly make poor choices, repeating themselves and seemingly not learning from them. This is not a minor issue. In fact, it often comes from denial associated with past abuse. The person is stuck in a loop because they have limited their choices and keep repeating their destructive actions.
Much of this is fear, fear of real change.
Writing about failure
I’m a believer in the notion that we must face fears directly and walk through them to our new self. This is where we learn growth and the fact that most fears are unfounded. Those are the stories I want to hear and write.
This is not about being negative all the time. In fact, when we tell a failure story and what we learned from it, we give readers the opportunity to avoid that mistake or recognize it while they can still turn and walk back through it.
I appreciate that many writers wish to share their success stories, though many times they strike me as sad because the focus is either on very small goals, like money or popularity, rather than the personal experience associated with that success.
One example I see a lot is the ‘I made $XXX a month doing this…’. There are two versions of these stories. The first is where the criteria they set for calling it a success is too low. This might be a ‘How I made $300 in a month writing…’ story. As a professional that looks like a failure story the writer isn’t learning from, if they frame it as a success big enough to brag about.
The other version is the exaggeration of success. I don’t care if you write 10,000 words a day. To me that is a strange definition of success. And, to paraphrase Hemingway*, that is probably typing, not writing.
*Not entirely certain he said this.
A failure story should be relatable
We relate more to the flaws and mistakes of others than to their successes. If they appear to have learned from them. A big If. If I tell you about a terrible decision I made and can’t tell what was good about it in hindsight, you’re probably not going to think much of me. And if you brag about your success without telling of the failures on the path to it, I’m not going to believe you.
Motivation is powered by getting through adversity. When we get past a difficult time or a situation, and move on, we gain personal power. That personal power is the confidence we gained by overcoming fear and adversity.
Those are the stories and the people I want to hear and get to know better.