Redefining failure, Redefining Success

Redefining failure, Redefining Success

Hello lovely readers, it is time for more end of year shenanigans. First, it is confession time, for those who are curious. I have not figured out what to do about my planning dilemma for next year. I thought I had decided, but it turned out that I hadn’t. As I mentioned in a previous post – I no longer subscribe to the “failing to plan is planning to fail” mentality, although in this case if I don’t make a decision, then I actually am making a decision not to plan. As I go through this process, people have told me some great truths! Such as – there is nothing special about January 1st, and I don’t have to decide straight away.

Another great truth that I have come to see this year that I am hoping to take into 2019 is about failure, and success. This lesson came for me through my writing this year. Those of you who know me well, know that earlier this year I finished my first book, and a few days ago, I finished my second. The second one was a fun challenge I did for Nanowrimo, just to see if I could do it. 50,000 words in November. It was one of the most fun things I did this year. I chose a topic that I wanted to explore in fiction, mapped it out briefly, and started writing. As an aside - Stephen King once said (paraphrased) that good stories write themselves, and it seems that may apply to all types of stories – good, bad or otherwise, and not just the riveting best sellers he throws out year after year. I definitely felt this with both of the books I wrote this year – less like a writer and more like a conduit for a story that happened to already be written somewhere else that was flowing through me and onto the computer. I am not sure how accurately I translated it, but I definitely felt that, and it definitely changed how I thought about writing, and what the process would be. Actually, I will say that one of my biggest lessons I learned this year was that thinking about writing and ACTUALLY writing are about as different as I ever thought they could be. There will be an entire post about the lessons I learned about writing in a few days. Today I want to talk about something that can apply to anything that you do in life, and it is – how do you define success, and failure.

I was having a conversation with a friend the other day about a project she wants to start, and how the fear of failure has held her back. It made me reflect on the successes and failures that I had this year. In truth – I would say now that I did a number of things this year that I deemed successful. But in order to feel that way, I needed to have a stern conversation with myself about how I defined success and how I defined failure. To use my books as an example. I always defined “writing a book” as that feeling I would get when I held the finished copy in my hands, and looked at the glossy cover with my name on it. Only then would I truly have succeeded in this regard. So the fact that even though I finished writing the book some time ago, and doing edits, and other book related things, I was starting to feel a bit disappointed in myself for not achieving my goal. For me – that was tantamount to failure, and it made me realize a few things about myself. The first was that I felt as if anything less than the finished product was failure, and that only the finished product – exactly as I wanted it to be – was success. This year, I came to discover what a dangerous thought process that was for me. Firstly because it meant that if I wasn’t careful, I would designate every road bump along the way as a failure. Every time I sat down in front of the computer and my mind felt blank. Every time I set myself a deadline that I did not reach. Even now – when I thought I would have that shiny copy in my hands already, and yet due to setbacks I never anticipated, it isn’t here, I felt as if I had failed when the simple truth is that it isn’t finished, and that these “roadblocks” are simply a part of the process. These thoughts of failure can cause me to procrastinate, lose motivation, and sometimes weep openly. Fear of failure is something that my friend and many others have sited as the reason they have not begun many of their journeys, and it is a real shame. I needed to learn to accept the stumbling blocks as landmarks on the journey I am taking, and not let them cause me to turn back, or abandon the journey. One of the big parts of doing that for me, was also redefining success. Instead of waiting until I had that finished product in my hand, I needed to define success as writing every day. As reaching landmarks such as 500 words, as opposed to waiting until I reached 50,000. As not giving up when I wanted to. As taking a break when I needed it. As enjoying the process. These may not sound like big achievements, but the truth is that my confidence was built by appreciating these little successes, and making myself celebrate them, even more than it was built by focusing on the end result. The truth is – things don’t always go according to the plan, and sometimes things are outside of my control. I had to come up with different ways to propel myself forward.

I wrote two posts recently about building courage, and lowering the stakes. I got some good feedback on it, and several people asked me how I did it, as it was another one of my big keys to tackling my fear of failure. So the best way I can describe it practically, is that I either picked a task that was similar but that had much lower stakes, or that I was less attached to the outcome. Alternatively, I broke the task down, and chose the smallest part of the process, and set about trying to achieve it. And then moved onto another. These are easy ways to start seeing wins, build confidence, and reduce the fear of failure. I hope that this provides some encouragement for those who are fearful of starting a process. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that we define what is successful and what is failure for us, and sometimes what looks like a mistake is part of the process. Sometimes we have to be ok with what seems to be an imperfect result, and see it as a part of the journey, and celebrate it for being just that.

And one of my favourite ways to celebrate is to drag good friends out of bed at 4 am to watch the sunrise and a few days ago, we did just that. You can see one of the photos above. And here I leave you - with big love from a small island.