The Failure Economy

by Bailey Bickerstaff

Enough about thankfulness, let’s get back to failure. Last posting, I said we would talk about my own struggle with failure and why anxiety controls our lives. College admissions counselors, I hope you’re ready, because this one’s a doozy.

I should have seen the signs long before I did. As a child, I remember practicing my assigned piano pieces after my weekly piano lessons. As my fingers danced over the keys, I began to wonder when my first mistake would occur, when the song would be blemished. I kept wondering and worrying, to the point that I would intentionally mess up the song so I could relieve the anxiety bubbling in my mind. Only later it occurred to me that this was a sign of a far bigger problem than missed notes on an elementary children’s ditty.

As I went through my life, the unrest I felt while performing did not really make a reappearance for some time, because as an elementary student, pressure doesn’t just naturally abound. At the age of eight, I began swimming. After the initial fear of beginning something new, I eased quickly into the fun of swim meets, because at my level, swimming was only fun. The atmosphere I found myself in developed quickly. After two years since deciding to swim in a competitive club, I was swimming at the level of most of my peers and had built a strong foundation of friends and teammates and coaches’ support. I began to thrive in the steadily intensifying environment I was being pulled into. More and more opportunities were presented to me, and I began to see that my dreams: a college scholarship, were much farther away than I had ever thought. I began to be exposed to much faster swimmers and I saw that eventually, I would need to make a choice: the school of my dreams or a smaller school to swim.

To compensate for the choice I knew I would one day have to make, I kicked into overdrive. I began to fear and worry; swimming morphed into a chore I made myself complete to appease the anxiety bubbling within my mind. I didn’t need pressure talks or scolding from my coaches, I had given myself plenty.

Around the same time, I got sick. Not the known, fixable illness that is easily remedied, but an unknown and mysterious sickness. I woke up with a headache that lasted all day and was lulled to the shores of sleep by my pounding heart each night. I was miserable and anxious; more importantly I was wrought in fear.

After several months I was physically well, but my mental attitude was still debilitated by the fear that I would fail at everything I attempted. In hindsight, the perfectionist attitude I possessed did not derive from my overwhelming desire to be the best, but my overwhelming desire to not be the worst. I felt that in life, I was running as hard as I could, but my efforts could never match those of my competitors. I felt like I was fighting irrelevance. Though my anxiety made most of its appearances through swimming, my fears began to control my entire life. In a brief conclusion to a long-winded story, it took a long time to finally control the anxiety I was constantly putting on myself. My “failure problem” as I like to call it, still rears its ugly head. I like to remind myself that while I might be in for a visit, I do not reside in the town where my fears live anymore.

So, I said we would talk about our collective fear of failure. Everybody has it. We all fear the failure of our monetary investments, our marriage, our business ventures. We fear God has abandoned us; we fear ISIS will take over America. Students fear standardized tests and being wait-listed. Athletes fear injuries and failed recruiting attempts. Even dogs fear vacuum cleaners!

Why do we fear failure? Why do we handle fear so badly? To me, failure always seemed like a fall; it reminded me of the picturesque garden of Eden, how just two people ruined something so perfect for everyone. I always felt that making mistakes were irreparable blemishes on my character.

Whatever the rationalization, why do we spend all our lives running from failure? If we changed our outlook on failure, we would find that failing is a highly underrated experience.

Michael Jordan was originally cut from his college basketball team. J.K. Rowling’s famous series about Harry Potter was rejected by different publishers numerous times. Abraham Lincoln lost his job, was defeated for the legislature, endured the death of his sweetheart, and suffered a nervous breakdown before being elected president.

I believe failure is for the opportunists- no one has ever heard of a forty year-old who lives in his mother’s basement talk passionately about failing at something. We only hear stories of hitting rock bottom from the successful people–people who rise above. If we follow the pattern and the rational thought process, it is only right to conclude that failure most often happens to the worthy–those who will make a name for themselves.

What does that mean for you when you fail? What should you remember about the person you are?

Know that you are worthy of failure.

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