Tag Archives: failure

Why Writers Never Have to Worry about Failure

They always say write what you know.

And what I know best is not my few successes, but my endless failures.

Oh, I’m a failer. I fail! Over and over. Stick around long enough and you’ll get to see it!

Or just wait a few seconds.

And I’ve been doing this editing thing for the better part of 20 years, managing book edits, and failing at it big time. All the time.

I miss things every day. I miss deadlines. I forget to call. I don’t follow up. I miss the point and end up frustrating people. Or worse, convincing them to try something that doesn’t work, overwhelm them, or even shut them down.

And worst of all, I miss the point. Again and again. For instance…

I’m not qualified. Honestly, I’ve never felt qualified for this. I just love books and especially writers, learning from them, and listening, asking them questions, and walking with them.

It’s what I love. I don’t love eliminating mistakes, correcting oversights, and condensing. I do it as best I can, but I fail at it.

And today I wonder if I accepted that failure more, if the work could become more, and maybe the books themselves too.

Maybe not—maybe writers don’t want such realness and honesty. Maybe they only want to see I’m extremely skilled and competent. It’s just extremely humbling how often I’m anything but. And when I inevitably mess up, I think there may be a higher purpose in that…maybe even a useful one.

Wendell Berry says it may be that when we no longer know what to do we have come to our real work. Practically speaking, if editing is my real work maybe it’s a good sign I don’t actually know how to do it.

But I think maybe my real work is being a good failer and demonstrating that very humbling reality as best I can.

Some part of me loves this idea–could be the lazy me. Or it’s the idea of rejecting that perfectionistic standard people have about professional editors. (Do I need to mention I was a pastor’s kid?)

Excellence is an important goal. But only grace can comfort us.

Can we really love people well without showing grace?

Ask your average writer what book they first loved. I’ve mentioned mine before: Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. I loved the passion of Meg Murray. She was a misfit, but that made her special, and her keen observation set her apart. I couldn’t have expressed it when I first read it as an 11-year-old, but it gave me hope knowing that the very thing that made her feel like a fool, like a failure, like a misunderstood misfit, was what made her the chosen hero.

She just had to let it out. Let it show.

We like to think of our heroes, even Jesus, as strong and capable and standing victorious on the mountaintop with the wind blowing in their hair. Why do we think that’s what a hero is when all the stories we’ve ever loved show that’s not a hero at all?

In their failure, they made us feel known, seen, heard, understood, comforted. Loved.

Everyone wants to be chosen. Isn’t it in our weakness, in our wounds and our struggles, that we most need to feel that?

I even fail at this. Which means I can probably trust this is what every writer needs, what every person needs: someone to listen and ask them the simple questions that draw them out and make them feel comfortable and accepted. And I do this every day, and it brings me something too, the very thing I’m looking for. It begins manifesting in my own life, this comfort and acceptance. This assurance of grace.

I don’t know why I got so lucky, and a lot of people think they have the greatest job in the world. And maybe they do. Maybe if they get to do this and embrace their failure for a higher purpose too, I can believe it.

Oh, and I still fail to do it, or even want to daily. I just know every day brings the choice: will you fill your own needs today or fill others? And who among us doesn’t realize which is the best choice?

Yeah, still that horrible fear of not having our specialness seen, loved, chosen, it makes us all choose the selfish way sometimes.

But don’t we also find hope knowing that the failure that makes us feel unworthy is actually irrelevant?

Is this another way to show what sacrificial love means?

We’re afraid and incompetent and selfish and lost–and still worthy of deep, real love!

We can fail to write well. We can fail to write for others. And yet success is what every finished book eventually reveals, even as they’re written and edited by total failures.

Maybe what we need most is also what everyone needs most: grace.

Maybe it’s even okay we forget this over and over. Maybe we’re always going to fail to remember it and maybe that’s why we have to read it and reread it and fail at writing it so many times before we can truly live this way consistently.

I don’t know. Maybe we all just need people willing to risk failing us, willing to risk us failing them.

The struggling, disillusioned, the weary and weak, we all need to see that failure doesn’t matter. Grace is irrespective of failure. I want to start showing that more so my writers can write freer, and maybe (hopefully) start living freer, to show others how to be freer too.

It could be only in finding failure no longer matters that we find our greatest success.

And if so, maybe we don’t even have to worry about failing to remember that.

For the higher purpose,
Mick

Why You Can Never Fail

I need a story about failure,” I said to Sheri and the girls as we sat down to a Saturday night dinner of take-out pizza.

IMG_0032

“Surely you can help me think of something,” I added, laughing. “Should be plenty of material.” 

But whether they knew something they didn’t want to share, or couldn’t think of anything, no one had an answer. Apparently, I’d also failed to show my appropriate glee in being a miserable failure.

“I once got an F in Old Testament in college,” Sheri offered. “Or maybe it was a D. It felt like an F.”

“Oh yeah,” I said. “Old Testament was crazy hard.” 

“I once got a B in science,” Ellie added. “Mrs. Sutton’s class in fifth grade. I totally deserved it, but I was devastated.”

“Really?” I hadn’t realized. “Did you mention it and I just forgot?”

“I don’t know.” Her hand paused on her pizza. “I only ever got A’s, until that.”

We’ve lived together every day of her life, but how little I really know about her. Is this my failure to ask about her days? Or maybe to truly listen? It could be she just failed to tell me about it. But even so, maybe she believed I’d fail to offer comfort. “It’s fine,” I could hear myself saying. “A ‘B’ is still pretty good….” 

Whatever the case, I had my answer. My parenting is often so incredibly inadequate. And the fact that my daughters and wife wouldn’t say so directly may only be more proof. 

164819_494124054563_777394563_5801658_7068250_nAnd I’m not just being ungracious to myself here. If I were to open the floodgates and start sharing all the ways I fail constantly–to be who I truly am, the more selfless and giving me–wouldn’t I truly connect more?

Isn’t that what relating really means—to relate your truest stories of your inadequate self that could help someone else relate?

It looks like a giant opportunity stretching out before me, a big, bold solution to several fundamental struggles I have. I always want to accomplish a lot and have big impact, but no matter how much I get done, I end up feeling like a failure, a “dad by default,” a distracted, disorganized, disappointment of a dud. It might take me a few lifetimes to replace this bad habit with a good one, to wake every day and remember that whether I can do everything I feel called to that day or not, sharing my authentic self is the real goal. 

I’ve needed to remember this, to look beyond what I do or don’t accomplish, to the awareness of how I’m doing at noticing, being, and sharing me. 

Because here’s what I know: the big things we want to do aren’t the point. Family and friends are the real point of life. And we can’t help wanting to do more and be more than we are. But to do that, we need to start getting some better mileage out of our failures.

IMG_0616Isn’t this the vulnerability Brene Brown and others have talked so much about? We all want to do such big things and have such great impact, but why aren’t we more honest about our shortcomings? Why don’t we shed our inhibitions and share what we’re bad at, where we struggle, and even our discomfort over appearing inept?

Of course, because of judgment. We’ve been wounded and we took those voices in and let them chastise us relentlessly. And that shaming formed us, formed our self-image to a large extent.

On top of that, as Christians we hear “die to self,” and “the heart is wicked above all else,” and “put aside selfish desires.” And we can struggle for years trying to believe all the Bible memorization and church attendance and prayers and journaling should help.

And why can’t we “Just. Get. Over. It. Already?!”

Everyone else is more resilient than we are, more determined to press on, more spiritual. We’re just failures. And we’re right to be ashamed.

We take all of this in and dwell on it to no end. It’s right and good to care what others think and we never realize this entire foundation is made of sand. 

We could let it all crumble and rebuild on rock. This inner torment could be discarded and we’d be free.

We’ve hidden our feelings and true personalities from this bully God, the one who’s so disappointed in us he can hardly bear to hold on and offer us this supposed “free grace and forgiveness.”

He’s only doing it because he has to. 

We all believe this in our deepest hearts. How could we ever accept that we’re failures? Our deepest fear broadcast and spread far and wide? Come to full life on the big screen for everyone to see?

Are you kidding me?

No one needs to know the pain and suffering we’ve endured. We’re so tired of feeling like failures all the time….

IMG_0763To let that all go and embrace our inadequacy we’d have to accept our deepest fear: our shame. Sharing our stories of failure could be our greatest opportunity to connect, but to do that we’d have to accept and come to believe it’s important to be vulnerable.

And that can seem downright impossible.

I was Ellie’s age when I realized my worst accusers were inside of me. I didn’t want others to see I was afraid of failing, so I held back and tried to stay hidden. Insecurity became my foundation.

But failure isn’t what we think it is. Failure doesn’t kill you. And sharing your failure with others makes them feel better. And that makes you feel better. In fact, when you fail and share it, it can be success. Failure connects us because we’re all inadequate. And we all feel shame about it. But real connection is what we really want deep down, so we have to stop protecting ourselves and yes, “die to self.”

Give up our shields and trade them for true resilience.

We forget that if we couldn’t be embarrassed, couldn’t be shamed, couldn’t be knocked off our high horse because we’re already vulnerable down on the ground,  we wouldn’t need to self-protect.

Upholding appearances is what prevents us from feeling good and successful in our lives, not failing to accomplish the big things we have planned. But our hyper-driven, happiness-worshiping culture keeps us distracted with supposed “free,” guiltless, nutrition-less, connection-substitutes to consume today—we’re “amusing ourselves to death” in binge-watching and window-shopping. The theaters have been full and the churches empty for a long time now.

All our apps and video games and prepackaged foods full of wish-fulfillment fantasies won’t free us. The endless parade of addictive modern fripperies will only make us more inadequate.

We’ve forgotten what healthy connectedness requires. We aren’t the center of the universe. And we need to struggle if we’re to learn anything at all.

I looked at my girls eating happily and said, “Embracing failure can ironically become a new place to succeed.” I tried to explain, but I knew I’d probably fail to convey the full idea.

But it didn’t matter anymore. I could try again. Failure was all I needed to get what I really wanted.

Want to stop being afraid of feeling like a failure? Want to escape the demands of your over-scheduled, under-nourished life? Want freedom? 

Accept your inadequacy and remember who is sovereign. Your failure is not the end of the story–it’s the beginning.

And every experience of failure is a connection story waiting to be shared.

No we don’t have to be achievers or successful or hold these perfect images together. We just have to give up that substitute happiness and our addiction to the numbing, feel-good drug, face the truth, and see that we’re all vulnerable. And we’re all failures. And that’s a very good thing.

We all want to connect and escape shame. And we all have failure stories. Sharing them is how we will succeed.

Do you know someone who could use this freedom? Will you share it with them? And in the process, you’ll remind yourself: this is how we succeed, by sharing our honest stories and connecting. 

And when you do, you may find that you can never fail because every failure is another way to succeed.

For the higher purpose,

Mick

In Praise of Inadequate Writers

I have to think of a story of a time I was a failure,” I said to my family at dinner after reciting the perfunctory prayer and filling our plates with Saturday night pizza.

IMG_0032

“I can’t think of anything,” I added, laughing. It was clearly not for any lack of material. “Can you think of a time you failed?”

Sheri thought about it. “I got an F in Old Testament in college. Or maybe it was a D. It felt like an F.”

“Oh, me too!” I said. “Old Testament was crazy hard.”

“I once got a B,” 12-year-old Ellie said. “I think it was in science. Mrs. Sutton’s class in fifth grade. I totally deserved it but I was devastated.”

“Really?” I asked. I hadn’t realized she’d taken it so hard.

“I only ever got A’s, until that,” she explained.

Though we live together day after day, I forget how little we really know about each other. Do I fail to ask enough and truly listen?

And then, an idea came about embracing my inadequacy. It seemed it could revolutionize the way I live and approach my work day to day….

164819_494124054563_777394563_5801658_7068250_nIf I were to open the floodgates and start sharing all the times and ways I’ve failed to live up to what I could be, the selfless me who often takes a back seat, I’d have plenty of interesting stories to share. All the places I’ve failed, and it would set an example for sharing.

We all love inadequacy stories. And we have so many of them!

If we’d just accept them, wouldn’t we connect more? Isn’t that what relating is—the place you can relate your stories of your fully-lacking self to relate to someone else?

It’s a big question, and it takes me a few days to consider the implications and whether I can do it authentically or if it would feel too forced. These relational experiments are strange but they feel good, right, purposeful.

And basically, I already know I can’t help wanting to be better than I am. So maybe this is a way I can at least get some good mileage out of my failures.

IMG_0616We all sense the importance of this, the vulnerability Brene Brown and others talk about—so why aren’t we more honest about our shortcomings? Why don’t we shed our inhibitions and share what we’re bad at, where we struggle and even our discomfort over appearing inept?

Of course, we know why. Because of judgment. We’ve been hurt and wounded so often, and some folks relentlessly. That shaming has formed us to a large extent and many others, and it’s not good enough to say “just get over it” and move on. Some people are more resilient by nature and determined to press on, while others take the embarrassment in and dwell on it, forcing us to care what others think before considering our own freedom. It’s a pernicious, ubiquitous bully, and it’s made us all in some way hide our feelings and true personalities.

We all have a few truly horrific stories of pain and suffering we’ve endured.

And we’re tired of feeling bad all the time.

IMG_0763To really let that all go and embrace our inadequacy we’d have to know we wouldn’t be shamed again. Our stories of failure may be our greatest opportunity to connect with each other, but to share them, we’d have to forget what we’ve been shown over and over, to somehow believe it’s not completely foolish to be vulnerable.

And that can sound downright impossible.

I was Ellie’s age when I realized my accusers were as afraid or more so than I was. Not of me, of course, but of others, of failing to win the attention, approval and acceptance their attention-starved brains craved. I couldn’t have articulated it like that, but I knew all people are insecure and the ones who tear others down are the most insecure of all.

And what I know now is, failure isn’t what we think it is. The world doesn’t end. In fact, when you fail and embrace it, it can get far better. Failure connects us. And real connection is what everyone wants anyway. Some people just get told they have to protect their proud image and never question the logic of it.

We forget this, but what’s worse, we’ve become trapped by the lie that upholding appearances is the way to feel good and successful in our consumer-driven, happiness-worshiping culture. The supposed “free,” guiltless, nutrition-less, connection-substitutes we consume today—from amusements to shopping centers, to media and theaters, to video games and prepackaged foods, to cheap-thrill hobbies and wish-fulfillment fantasies—the endless parade of addictive modern fripperies has made us forget how dependent and inadequate we are.
Everything is formulated with just the right amount of addictive happy-juice to hook us and keep us coming back for more, and we’ve forgotten what healthy functioning is, what connectedness means, that we aren’t the center of our universe and we don’t deserve to never struggle.

IMG_5322Embracing failure can ironically become our new “guilty pleasure.”

We long for freedom, to escape the demands of our lives and bury ourselves in the soft creamy center of the incredible sweet things around us. But what if our wish-fulfillment fantasy that led to lasting good feelings was just beyond the challenge of appearing like a failure? If we insist too strongly that we don’t ever want to feel bad, we’ll never find out that embracing our inadequacy and failure can actually bring the freedom and joy we’re longing for (as the hugely-popular new Pixar film “Inside Out” recently made clear).

Every experience of failure is a connection story waiting to be shared.

No we don’t have to be achievers or successful or hold these perfect images together. We just have to give up that substitute happiness and our addiction to the numbing, feel-good drug, face the truth, and see that we’re all vulnerable. And we’re all failures. And that’s a very good thing.

We all have endless connection stories to share. And sharing them can be how we succeed.

Are you struggling with someone who needs this reminder this week? Maybe your best way to remind yourself is to share with them a “connection story.”

And when you try, remember that you never fail without gaining yet another way to succeed.

For the higher purpose,

Mick