"If at first you don't fricassee, fry, fry a hen." -Carol Ryrie Brink in Caddie Woodlawn
Let’s cover a topic on which I can speak with some authority. I have a long record of personal failures. I’ve also, therefore, had a lot of opportunity to ruminate on the whys and wherefores of failing. This series is the result of all that rumination and all that screwing up.
Have you ever had a truly nagging regret? When we think of failure, it's usually in the active sense; I applied but was rejected, I aimed but missed the target, I leapt and splat. Chances are, though, that a lot of us most regret chickening out on the trying. Trying, finishing, and failing usually sits better than wishing you had.
When I was in grade school, a community children’s choir began with much-anticipated auditions. Not knowing what the caliber of the competition would be, I sat out the first year. Was my fear baseless? Probably. As a kid who had performed since the age of 2 and sung before hundreds, occasionally thousands, I should have had more confidence. Instead, I learned that fear of failure is safe but very, very boring.
But risking failure does more than save us from chicken-regret. It also potentially delivers real regret. The kind that makes you a wiser, more thoughtful person. Somehow, my first-ever interview as a budding journalist was with Newt Gingrich. I was 18 with a brand-spanking-new steno pad, and I didn’t even know much about him, but I gathered that he was pretty connected. It was going swimmingly, when, several intelligent questions in, when I should have thanked him and ducked out, I completely lost my head and pretty much asked him for a job. He rolled his eyes and handed me off to an assistant, and I have recalled this in shocked embarrassment ever since. Embarrassment, the kind where you have to accept that you are just as big an idiot as everyone else, and maybe bigger, builds the kind of character that in time makes you, hopefully, less of an idiot.
Let’s redefine failure. Maybe time lost is really time invested. Maybe the lucky ones are the ones who fail most spectacularly, because they overcome the biggest obstacle to perfect peace: that last shred of faith in self. Pride. One of the greatest freedoms, one I must constantly rediscover, is from short-term-goal pressure. Whether I try to build a relationship, or learn to cornrow, or get a promotion, or achieve feng shui perfection in my living room, these goals are all just vignettes punctuating this story of God and me, God in me, working toward one ultimate goal. Failure in terms of career and cornrowing may be crucial to the success of that goal, the one where I get more like Jesus.