On Failing, but never being a failure

Hi y’all, Happy Wednesday!! It’s the end of the year which means lots of goal- setting and sharing for the new year and talking about this year’s accomplishments. With all the joy and excitement in the air, I want to talk about failing.

Ha! Yup, you heard me. Failing.

I don’t know about you but I am someone who ALWAYS sets impossible standards. I think it stems from how I was raised (don’t most things?). I grew up in a household where there was no middle ground. You played basketball and were the best in your team or you quit (or, in my case you family was just incredibly embarrassed.) You did theater and got all the leads or you quit (I got the lead, but theater was not something my family understood). You got straight A’s or…ha ha, well, thanks mom & dad for not disowning your sometimes B & C student-daughter. Given this kind of pressure, it’s no surprise that by 20 I was a failing pro.

And so, for me, as I’ve often joked with a friend of mine, Arvin, who I share this in common with, who I bonded with sharing a story about how my dad said to me, “you’ve got talent, but no discipline” writing was less the thing I knew I was meant to do and more the thing that I had always done, and felt hey, none of this other stuff is working so…going to become a writer.

The same goes for pursuing publishing as a career. I reached a certain point where I felt backed up against a wall…like if I didn’t succeed at it then what? So, I claimed them both, decided this is it, and continued to, as I had all my life, set some near-impossible goals. Not only did I consistently fail at them, I crashed and crashed hard. I fell into a deep depression because if I was failing then I was a failure and what was the point of keeping going if that was all I was going to be?

Now, I know, maybe part of the problem was the goals I set. But, I do think a big part of said problem had to do with how I related those goals–my “failure” to hit them–with my sense of self-worth. Every time I failed to “get an agent or be published by [x age]” or failed to complete a project by “x date” I linked it directly to who I am as a person.

And, like I said, that took its toll on me and I’m saying that here, publicly, because similar to writing, most people only ever see the finished product (your book on shelves) just as what most of you see now are me signing with an agent and launching people of color in publishing and…my successes. You don’t see me revising late at night, or writing on the train in between my commutes, nor do you see the breakdowns—you only witness the breakthroughs. But, I see it all. And, when I used to link my self-worth to my failures, I reduced myself to my failures, too.

I am no overnight success. I think I’ve been successful at things, but I’ve also worked really hard at those and part of that “working really hard” has been me setting goals I’m probably not going to hit, at least not in the timeframe I want to hit them.

Take this summer, for instance. I really wanted to finish my work on my book this summer. I wanted to be on submission this fall. But life happens, a lot of family and person stuff that at the time I didn’t think was affecting my writing but was SO CLEARLY affecting my writing (thank you, Saba, for that reminder). I failed at every single goal I set and to be completely honest, those weren’t even that unattainable—they were goals I’ve hit before that I could’ve hit had it not also been because of the fact that with this book, because of my increased work schedule, etc., I had to relearn the writing process that had gotten me through 4 books (aka I could no longer wander aimlessly through drafts, I had to become a plotter *gasp* and, spoiler alert, I became a real efficient one at that).

So, I spent a whole summer writing the wrong book. I hit roadblock after roadblock and failed hard for a few months. I eventually got back in my groove due to many things that included rewriting the way I look at my failures.

To take it back to childhood, in my childhood bedroom I have a poster that I would see every time I went to bed and every time I woke it. It was one of those cheesy inspirational quotes that says something like, “shoot for the moon and even if you fail you’ll land among the stars.” And, it’s funny how you go about life and then one day, it all hits you. Literally, I hit my head on said poster (okay that was really cheesy, I’m done now). I have been shooting for the moon my whole life. I’ve been setting one impossible standard, one hard to attain goal after the other. Some of those goals were unattainable because I didn’t have the skills I needed (e.g. I didn’t know how to revise when I wrote those first 4 novels) and some of them were near-impossible because I was expecting myself to accomplish things (like getting a job in publishing right after college) that had many elements completely out of my control.

But, those failures were successes. What!? Why?

Because, they kept me going. If didn’t get published by 18, OKAY THEN 19 IT IS. (ha haha hahaha…I kid you not) For me at least, I didn’t need to change the goals because why can’t we dream ridiculous things, why can’t we shoot for the moon? I needed to change me linking “failing” at a thing with me being a “failure.”

So, yes, I refuse to lower my standards. I refuse to stop dreaming about accomplishing ALL OF THE THINGS.

My failures are fuel for my fire.

My failures remind me I’ve still got work to do.

But, what I don’t need to do, is think of myself as less than.

What I don’t need to do is consider myself worthless or unworthy.

You can work towards a dream, you can use that seemingly impossible dream to drive you. Your impossible standards are your ambition manifested and ambition is never a bad thing.

I fail all the time. Next year, I’m going to fail some more.

So, go out there…go into the new year with your wildest, boldest goals. Failures happen all the time. Don’t define yourself by your failures. Once again, you are not a failure.

You are always worth it. 

Never, ever give up. 

Here’s to the new year!!

Some Notes:

Said friend is Arvin Ahmadi. His YA Contemporary debut novel, Down and Across, comes out in February 2018 from Viking Children’s. It’s about this very topic and it’s AMAZING. (He was interviewed by Angie Thomas over the summer, note the pub date changed, read it and learn more about Down and Across!!)

Saba Sulaiman, literary agent at Talcott Notch, is the inspiration for this post, or rather the #wednesdaywisdom she shares weekly–in particular this one. Thank you, Saba, for being such a wonderful support system <333

For another, similar take on failure and how embracing failing it challenges you, check out this post by PubCrawler E.C. Myers “On Writing and Failure.”


2 Responses to On Failing, but never being a failure

  1. Whitney Jan 1 2018 at 7:15 pm #

    Thank you, Patrice! I feel like this is great life advice in general. I’m a senior in high school. I also set very high goals for myself, some of which aren’t exactly achievable. And some, which my parents think aren’t achievable, definetly are. Many people ask me why I’m not taking the easy road, and to met, that’s not an option. After going through many challenges and failed goals, the only time I feel like a failure is when I didn’t attempt to do something.

    • Patrice Jan 23 2018 at 4:47 pm #

      You’re so very welcome! And whew, senior year is a tough one with all the emotions and expectations… never a bad idea to push yourself to achieve your goals, as long as you’re also taking care of yourself. Best of luck with it all!!

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