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:
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.