The word alone seems to carry weight: like being hit and enveloped by a waterlogged quilt — heavy and suffocating.
That weight leads us to not face the thing head-on. Instead, we hide it where it settles deep within us and only comes up when we are so distraught as to say the meanest things to those we most love and adore. Or from its depths it rises up to whisper in our ear when we are laying in bed on nights when nothing at all seems to be going right.
Let us now take at least one little step and boldly face this abysmal waterlogged monster head-on. And we may quickly find this creature is no less than a specter.
Shining a light on this specter, we can say with certainty that Failure is a word. And we can break it down to “fail” and “-ure” (does not that syllable sound like our heavy blanket thudding down around our ears?).
To fail is not so frightening, for it is clear. “Fail” requires certainty: you can only fail when there is a clear goal and time frame — you only fail by not doing this thing by that time. The clarity of “fail” allows construction. It is a place to move on from. Failing is creative destruction. When we fail, we have set some clear goal and not achieved it. It is an emptiness with form that allows us to learn. And because of failing, our next goals shall be made clearer, more obtainable — and perhaps even brighter.
Failure, on the other hand, lacks clarity. This lack of clarity makes Failure a specter and is what causes such consternation. It is an emptiness without form1. When we open our eyes into a darkened room, we “see” the coattails of phantoms flitting about, though we know that these things are not actually there. In the same way, into the darkness of Failure, we imagine the phantoms of self-doubt and uncertainty. Unfortunately, we don’t usually realize that these fluctuations have no more substance than those images we think we see in a darkened room. And if we try to attack this emptiness, we continue to find nothing of substance and only tire ourselves. The inability of making any progress in chasing phantoms makes the effort seem totally futile and the depth of the darkness even deeper.
So how do we conquer Failure? It is a specter simply because it is undefined. Re-reading my last blog post, I realized that this was the specter I was dueling with. I started that post with my sense of failure and the fact that I was unwilling to share that feeling with anyone. This is the very vagueness animates that specter. And it was the external forces of my employment situation — and the kindness of friendship — that provoked me into clearly defining the specter.
How are we to know when we are actually defining something instead of dueling with those phantoms in the abyss? Here we must learn to Fail well. Let us embrace Failing. We do this by setting clear goals, and knowing when these goals have been met or missed. And this clarity allows each Failing to become a battlement defending against the specter of Failure.