What’s worth doing, even if I fail?
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this. If I’m feeling pessimistic, I can trace the years of my life from age 5 to 29 along a craggy line on a depressed graph of little failures.
In elementary school, my best friend was a mouth breather, and my nickname was cross-eyed bucktooth beaver (does that need more hyphens?). At summer camp, Sasha deigned to call me over and tell me that she was “going out” with Ben and I said, “Cool, where?,” which was NOT cool. My freshman year of high school, I got straight D’s. At NYU, I majored in drinking. I was a well-meaning but muddled friend; once (wasted) I tried to set my friend Sarah up with a homeless person and their shopping cart outside of Mars Bar. After college, I spent two years working at Urban Outfitters (they fired me). I’ll stop there.
The common thread through all these years, the upward trend opposing the downward spiral on my theoretical graph, is fear. I was afraid of being laughed at, afraid of not knowing as much as other people, afraid I wasn’t good or cool or smart. I let that fear dictate how I lived; I mostly stopped trying to be anything other than numb. I stuck to the low road.
My main anesthetics were liquor and men. At bars, I could quickly disappear into a cup, or the possibility that the guy in the corner with the emo haircut is smarter than he looks (and wants nothing more than to whisk me away from my own head and into a Paul Rudd movie).
I don’t rely on those vices anymore, but changing those behaviors didn’t change the audio loop clanging in my head: BE AFRAID. Of strangers, earthquakes, toxic shock syndrome, people not liking me, global warming, lung cancer, saying the wrong thing, being the wrong kind of mother. Give me any topic at all, and I can tell you the most self-destructive way to worry about it. I am very good at being bad at this.
It’s not that I stopped being scared the last few years, but that I stopped letting that fear boss me around. I came to realize that I could be afraid and still do things. I could brave the potential failure inevitably looming darkly in the distance. Sometimes it catches you, and you fall down. Other times, you cruise right by it, on your way to some real thing. Either way, you just move on.
As I got older, my world got bigger. I had nothing, and then eventually had a person I loved, a home, a baby, now a business. The cliche is true: the more shit you have, the more you have to lose. The potential failures get wider, deeper, they sting more. They ride in on an evil horse (no offense to horse people) and tell you not to dream too big, that the horse can shatter anything with its giant failure horse hammer.
The answer to the question about what’s worth doing despite failing is: everything. I want to go to California even though I read that New Yorker article about the impending doom of the next crushing earthquake. I want to speak up even though I might say something deeply uncool. I want to make art even if other people think it’s shitty. I want to write even if no one ever reads it. I want to sit my ass down in the world, own my spot, look fear in the face and say, “Oops, I didn’t recognize you. Is that a new horse?”