I’m a failure. And I’m ok with that.
There are a lot of things I’ve failed at. I’m a failure as a professional artist and photographer. I’m a failure as a comic publisher. I’m sure you could probably find plenty of women in my past who would quite happily tell you that I’m a failure as a lover.
There was a point in my life that any of these would’ve devastated me. Hell, taking the time to tally up all the things I’ve failed at – hope you’ve got all day, it’s quite the list – would’ve been enough to throw me back into another depression spiral.
After all: we’re all under an insane amount of pressure to “succeed”. We’re taught over and over again that if we’re not “successful”, then we’re just so much human detritus, castoffs, society’s forgotten children. We don’t “count” because we don’t meet some arbitrary and external standard.
But… whose standards, exactly? And why do we accept those standards as valid?
I mean, we’re trained in school that “success” lies in regurgitating the desired answers, regardless of whether we understand them, the process behind finding those answers, or even if those answers are correct. So, is there more success in being able to reproduce facts via rote memorization and getting a high grade, or in having pulled yourself up from an F to a C?
What about fame? Fortune? The Kardashians are rich and famous… and they were born to it. Does this mean that we’re a failure if we didn’t happen to be born to the right set of parents at the right time? ((And before anyone brings it up: yes, I’ve read Outliers too. I understand that birth order, parents and timing can offer advantages in life. That isn’t what we’re talking about here.)) Building up a profitable business? Michael Lindsay of iMedia Networks is undoubtedly a successful by that standard… except his business is to send all the ads for boner pills and Russian mail-order bride services that clog up your email every day. Is success measured by pure capitalism, even when your product damages the livelihood of others?
What if you’re only kind of successful? Kurt Cobain is hailed (rightly so) as a musical genius… but he never sold as many albums as Justin Bieber. Neither did the Beatles, for that matter. Are they any less successful than The Bieb? But then there’s the famous quote about The Velvet Underground: Only 1000 people bought their albums, but every single one of them started a band. Does that make The Velvet Underground more successful than Pitbull or Christina Aguilera?
Or for that matter, look at how we view sex and relationships. Is somebody a success just because he’s slept with hundreds of women? What about the man who only ever slept with one woman, but had three kids and a blissfully happy life with her? Is a woman a failure because she never gets married, instead choosing to devote her energies to running a profitable Fortune 500 company? What if she never has children but is a beloved teacher who helped hundreds of children reach their intellectual potential?
Perhaps it’s time to redefine what it means to be a “failure”.