The Art of Failure

I am a failure.  I have always been a failure.  I am at peace with that and even embrace it as a part of my identity, since the best part of being a failure is that people are impressed when you succeed.  The key is embracing the things that you learn from failure and trying again rather than wallowing in self pity.  This past year has been a banner year for failure and I either need to embrace it and use it to my advantage or crawl under a rock and wait for the end.

When I was younger I tried to set low expectations.  My theory was that whenever I failed people would accept it as the norm, and when I succeeded I would be a superstar.  It seemed logical and gave me an excuse to be lazy and not to step outside my comfort zone.  Eventually this type of negative self talk seeped in and I started believing that I was less than I really am, which is an unfortunate example of faking it until you make it.  Constantly undercutting myself lead to laziness and negativity which also made me not a nice person to be around.  I really loved having those moments when I really shined and people stopped and took notice, it was nice to surprise people and show a glimmer of my potential, but unfortunately those chances became more few and far between as I fell into a cycle of self doubt and complacency.  I wish that I could say that there was a lightbulb moment where I snapped out of everything and started realizing my potential, but it was a glacial change over years, one that hopefully is not done.

One of the biggest things about being a failure is that the less afraid you are of failing the more likely you are to take bigger and bigger shots.  I have a history of playing it a bit safe, but I have been able to compartmentalize my life enough that I am not afraid of failing at some things.  I am not afraid of bombing on stage because I know that consequences are minor compared to failing in other areas of my life.  The idea of hearing crickets when getting to a punchline is kind of scary, but not as scary as screwing up when mixing an IV for a baby that was born within the past hour.  By being able to compartmentalize my life I am able to enjoy things with some reckless abandon while also maintaining my professional composure.

Comedy has been a great outlet for failure, mostly because my stakes are pretty low.  I know that I will most likely not pursue comedy at a serious level, I could but I choose not to because it isn’t the best fit for me.  I really respect those that take the shot and move to bigger cities to chase their dreams, but I am not at a place in my life where that is appealing to me.  I am perfectly fine hanging out and performing in the Vermont comedy scene and occasionally putting in an appearance elsewhere, but even that is a lesson in failure.  Sometimes I work on a joke for hours and hours just to have it bomb to the extend that I will never tell it again, other times I will have to fail at a joke 20 times to get it to the place where it needs to be.  I take solace in Jefferson’s quote about finding 10,000 ways not to make a lightbulb.  Embracing those small failures and pushing past them makes it easier for me to move past small failures in other areas of my life.

Trying online dating has been a huge source of failures during the past year, and they have not always been pleasant learning experiences.  I have a poor dating track record and got to the point that I just completely wrote it off and stopped trying.  I admitted to be a failure I wasn’t able to do anything about it and tricked myself into being content with the status quo.  Luckily for me I sometimes turn into a drunk and emotional wreck and woke up one morning with a mead hangover and a subscription to Match.com.  I learned that the hardest part was putting yourself out there and sending the first email, and dealing with the chance that the girl would not respond.  Eventually I went out with some pretty cool people and some pretty terrible ones, and was able to make some friends and find some people that I would cross the street to avoid.  I suppose that failing at all those dates made me appreciate the ones that went well, so that when I meet someone I am more apt to put myself out there and really give it a try instead of just saying “they won’t like me so I won’t try.”  In the end it was a good experience at trying new things, and something that has had overall returns, but it definitely taught me how much some failures can suck.

Beyond the little failures in my personal life I have had some pretty hefty professional failures recently.  I took a shot when I took a position at the hospital running the Long Term Care Pharmacy, and felt pretty low when it came crashing down.  I was partially responsible for the failure, but in the end it was a financial issue that was beyond my control, which didn’t make it feel any better.  I had an opportunity to move myself into a position to make some serious professional growth taking a director of pharmacy position, but it wound up being too much work for too little reward so I took a step back professionally and took a position working retail.  It was the right decision, but it doesn’t make me feel warm and fuzzy inside, but I am ok with the choice.  Yesterday I met with my boss who was so happy with the work that I am doing turning around a store with performance and staffing issues that he wants me to climb the ladder and make the jump to district manager track.  Fortunately I may be a failure, but am not a fool and wouldn’t open myself up for that type of soul crushing stress for a few extra dollars an hour.

In a vague attempt to push myself to be more clinical despite working in a non clinical area I tried taking the Certified Geriatric Pharmacist exam, which I wound up failing.  I poured a lot of time and effort into the exam and am pretty disappointed in myself for failing by such a slim margin.  If I would have bombed it I could just admit that I am not the clinical type and that I should give up, if I passed then I could toss the postnomials in people’s faces like the asshole that I am, but failing my the slim margin of 3 points is infuriating.  If I would have focused on a few small areas that I ignored then I would have passed and been able to move on with my life.  When I first started working as a pharmacist I worked a ton of overtime to prove to people and to myself that despite not being clinical I could still be exceptional.  In a strange duality since taking the exam I have been overloading myself with overtime all over again in an attempt to prove that I am not just normal or average.

My father always says that life is 10% aptitude and 90% attitude, and attitude is the key to mitigating failure.  By embracing the idea that a setback is the setup for a comeback I have been able to improve many aspects of my life over the past year.  It isn’t always easy to stay positive, and you need those times when you feel like absolute shit in order to relish those times when you are an undeniable success.  Failure may not be an option for some people, but it is all that I know.  The key is that I have learned what I have to do to overcome and learn from my mistakes, and with that I plan on failing my way to the top.

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