Chad Grayson

The F Word

I want to talk about a difficult subject, and to do so I’m going to have to use a word that a lot of people don’t like. It’s an F-word.

Not that one.

No, not that one either.

The word that makes people so uncomfortable is Failure (which means my grandma can read this and not get mad at me).

It turns out, I know a lot about this word, because I have failed many, many times.

I failed in my teaching career. Twice. I failed to get my A+ Technical support certification. All of these were humiliating. I’ve failed to secure many, many jobs I’ve interviewed for. I failed as a husband. I failed as a father (maybe not ultimately but there were hundreds of failures along the way). I failed and failed at online dating, getting ghosted more times than I can count. I guess I was just not that interesting.  Before starting to write seriously again in 2019, I failed at writing about four different novels. And one of the novels I did finish after 2019 I trunked and have started stripping for parts.

I’ve failed to sell about a dozen stories to paying markets. The only reason I didn’t fail at finding an agent and going the traditional publishing route was that I didn’t try. I have failed to sell a large number of books. I’ve failed to get positive attention on social media. I’ve failed to make the most of opportunities that were given to me. I failed to maintain friendships. I failed to miss the deer that ran in front of my new car a couple of years ago.

Wow. This is depressing. I promise the parade of suck is almost over.

The point is, I know what I’m talking about here. By any definition, I am a failure.

Brene Brown says that the biggest shame trigger people have is the assignment of unwanted identities. Failure is certainly one of those. We use another word, for ourselves and other people who have failed. Loser. Harsh, right? But it’s the truth.

Here’s the thing, though. Failure happens to everyone. There are thousands of stories of people who finally made it big who failed in a major way before they ever succeeded. I’m not going to recount all of those stories here, but failure has a pristine pedigree. The only people who have never failed are people who’ve never tried to do anything. There’s honor in that, at reaching for a goal, falling short, and taking your lumps. It can make us kinder, more compassionate people, and also make us strong enough to withstand the pressure when success finally comes.

And yeah, when you fail, people make comments. The people who make the meanest comments are people who’ve never really dared trying to accomplish anything major. These are people who ‘stay in their lane,’ and don’t put themselves out there. Most of the people who matter will watch you fall, wince at your pain, and offer you a hand up while they tell you their own story. Those are the people you need to pay attention to, not the ones who are making fun of you.

And for the love of God do not turn your attention to the randos on social media. Especially the anonymous ones. They don’t really know your story, and their experience is not relevant.

But here’s the biggest thing I learned about failure. When it happens, you have to take a minute. You have to feel it. Process it. Let it suck for a couple of days or a couple of months and cry about it to your best friend and/or your cousin’s wife (Hi, Lisa). I know I personally, the various times I have failed, have immediately launched myself at the next thing (which I probably also failed at, eventually), and that was a mistake. It’s true that action is good, and that doing something feels better than stewing in those awful, awful feelings. That led me to a pretty serious breakdown a couple of years ago, because I had all this unprocessed trauma from the times I had failed that had stayed lodged in my mind, and were resulting in some pretty toxic self-talk. So, yeah. Take some time. Make considered decisions. Decide if the next thing you think of is something you really want, or if it’s just a new target to aim yourself at to escape from your feelings.

Everybody hates failure, but I’ve found it’s always led to something that makes up for it. Failing as a teacher led me to a new set of circumstances that resulted in a lot more freedom. Failing as a certified technician kept me from getting into situations where I would have been in over my head doing real damage. Failing as a husband liberated both me and my wife from a life that was serving neither of us. My failures as a parent, when I acknowledged and apologized for them, led me to a deeper relationship with my adult children. Failing at online dating made me remember this guy I’d met a couple of years before, and who I’d been thinking about, prompting me to search him out again. Now I’m in the happiest relationship of my life and we’re getting married October 12th (This was definitely the best outcome for that story).

Failure gives you the opportunity to rethink what you’re doing, and figure out what you really want. It clarifies your values. It gives you the opportunity to recreate yourself as a new, more authentic version. In order to rise from the ashes, a Phoenix first needs to burn.

Failure doesn’t have to be permanent. Success certainly never is. And failing in one thing can lead to success in something more important later. I thank God I am not working some soul-sucking tech job right now, and have avoided the way teaching as a career has collapsed. Like I said before, if you’ve never failed, you’ve never really tried to do anything important.

And these days … I would not consider myself a professional success. You could even say I’ve failed as a novelist, and if making money was my goal, that’s certainly true. Here’s the thing, though. I am proud of the work I am putting out, and more importantly, I have loved the process of creating it. My days are spent being creative, and though I am no means a financial success, I know there are many people who would kill for my life. These days, I am also pursuing an art degree, which is a brand new area for me. Will I fail at this? Possibly! Maybe even likely. But if I do, I will take a minute, cry for a couple of days, then thank the universe for the experience, and think deeply about what it is that I want to do next.

There’s always something new coming up. That is the universe’s greatest gift.   

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top