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Failure Sucks

I’ve experienced a fair chunk of failure lately. I left academia a little while ago after failing to get tenure, and while I might toss up some smoke about something being wrong with the university system and blah, blah, blah, the truth is that I was given enough support to succeed but didn’t publish enough. I could tell you that I was a great teacher and that there’s too much of an emphasis on research these days, but really I wasn’t a very good teacher either.

More recently, I organized a demonstration at the Inauguration for people to come and show their support for the Bill of Rights as Barack Obama marched by on the parade route. Notice went out pretty widely online, the event hit the top of Google and was the subject of stories in a few paper publications and video outlets… but I was the only person who actually showed up to it. It was lonely and very cold, and after ten hours of holding my banner asking our new president to uphold his oath of office, Barack Obama walked down the street, started to turn his head my way… and a media truck drove right between him and me. Zero.

Economically, I am not doing very well. No, let me put that in context: I’m doing well enough, compared to some others. I have enough food to eat and I have a roof over my head. There are a lot of people who don’t have that. But my income right now is $10-$20 a day. That’s pretty meager, and it’s not sustainable in the long term. I know a lot of people are in the same boat, which is a little comforting, in a shared difficulty sort of way.

There are books and motivational speakers out the wazoo with the message that failure is useful, that it teaches us something special. But I don’t believe it. I’d like to believe it, and I know booksellers and motivational speakers get their own success out of doing their best to get others to believe it, but that doesn’t mean that I really believe it.

Here’s what I believe. Here is my grand lesson from my failures:

Failure sucks.

I’m not giving up. I’m going to keep going. I’m going to keep trying, because the alternative is not to keep trying, which is a guarantee of continued failure. But Hell’s Bells, I’m not going to get all perky on your ass, stick my finger in a dimple, twist up a smile and pretend this is sunshine.

Failure sucks. And if you feel the same way, know that you’re not the only one.

4 comments to Failure Sucks

  • Kimberly S-K

    Maybe you’re using the wrong definition of success. Not to get all Pollyanna on you, but I do tend to agree with the following (and by which, I’d argue you are a raging success):

    “To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and to endure the betrayal of false friends. To appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”
    — Ralph Waldo Emerson

  • Tom

    i’m empathetic. In 1993 my business collapsed and my dad died in the same month. Talk about dejection . . . it took me a while to recover from the tough times. You have the attitude to prevail – just keep on doin’ the best you can with what you have and continue to look for opportunities. The bottom line of course is that things always change, so “this too shall pass.”

    i appreciate your thoughts and your contributions to this blog. Keep up the good work.

  • Jon

    Jim, you and I may have ideological differences that put us on seemingly opposite ends, but as humans we share something far beyond those superficialities.
    I am no stranger to taking risks that sometimes don’t work the way we might wish. And in reality that is what you are saying, that the risks you have taken haven’t paid off the way you might wish. I suppose you could have taken a safe path, maybe conformed, set your sight lower, or have lowered you expectations. I would guess that is not your nature.
    Sometime about ten years ago I took the risk of working for a Bio-friendly packing company, during it’s start-up phase. I left a very comfortable and stable job to do so. To make a long story short, after almost three year of trying, the game was mostly done. I went from 70k a year to working for the local trash company. At the time my wife and I were expecting our second child…..

    It wasn’t easy. I don’t think your journey is any easier…But, if I can rebound, I am sure that someone with you intelligence can do better than that.
    You are the one person here that clearly has an advantage in any argument, and I admire that.

    remember, first things first, and family is first.

  • Jim

    Tom, Kimberly and Jon,

    Thanks for the very kind and encouraging words. They make me smile when I read them.

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