“Being a writer is a very peculiar sort of a job: it’s always you versus a blank sheet of paper (or a blank screen) and quite often the blank piece of paper wins.” – Neil Gaiman
Karen Rinaldi, author, amateur surfer and publisher of Harper Wave, recently wrote a New York Times op-ed titled “(It’s Great to) Suck at Something” discussing the validity of failure.
“Why should we pursue something that we’re not good at?” she asks.
It’s a compelling concept in an age where people mistake the well edited Facebook and Instagram pages of their contemporaries for real life. The truth is that no one can be perfect at everything and we shouldn’t expect to be.
There is a beauty in learning from mistakes, of not being perfect. In the repetition of failure or near misses we come to know ourselves. That “journey” to be horribly cliché, is often the key to finding real success.
If that is not encouraging, consider this: there are many stories of failure in the publishing world. Stephen King’s first novel, Carrie, was rejected thirty times before being published and becoming the iconic story we all know today. Jack London, acclaimed author of White Fang, was rejected over 600 times in his career. Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling was on welfare while writing what would become one of the top selling books of all-time, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
Of course, not all of us will succeed. The proverbial blank piece of paper will win the day occasionally. And that’s okay, Rinaldi writes. Smile while you fail. Because there’s freedom in futility.
“By taking off the pressure of having to excel at or master an activity, we allow ourselves to live in the moment. You might think this sounds simple enough, but living in the present is also something most us suck at.”
We live in a time when we’re discouraged from trying new things because our failures seem so public. But without the effort we can never be better as artists, writers, athletes, chefs, parents and/or human beings. So, let today be the last day you say no to some new experience, or an old favorite because you believe your performance will be less than perfect. Live in the moment and do what you want.
As one of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott, likes to say, it’s time for your really, really shitty first draft.