Yesterday's New York Times carried an article about the Republican nominee for President, drawing on the last extensive biographical interviews he gave before running for President.
The picture the article draws is of a man so afraid of failure that he literally cannot allow himself to do so. In other words, he readjusts reality to make failures into victories as a coping mechanism.
It's illuminating as all get out for what this man is all about, but for the first time, I started to feel sorry for him.
I feel sorry for him because without failure there is no real success. Unless you've fallen off your bike and skinned your knee, there's no soaring sense of achievement when you pedal to the end of the block and remain upright, skin intact.
I think back on some of the epic failures of my life.
There've been more than a few, most of my own making.
Times I rushed in to things when I should have walked.
Times I was sure I knew the right way, when I didn't.
Times I should have kept quiet, and didn't.
I'm going to take a wild guess and suggest you might have a list too.
Certainly if you've written a novel or ten, you've got some concrete examples of things you've tried that just didn't work. Sometimes you don't even know why.
And sometimes you think they DO work, but no one else seems to think so.
That one's really hard isn't it?
But it is these failures that teach us, shape us, and help us grow. It is failure, and our response to it that builds character.
My dad used to say that one hallmark of a good man was having the right enemies.
I'll adapt that to say that the hallmark of a good writer is having the right failures.
To risk and fail is better than not risking but not succeeding.
And acknowledging failure for all its pain and embarrassment is better than claiming the deck is stacked against you. (I'm speaking of publishing here, not the electoral process.)
The deck is stacked against everyone in publishing. All of us. Some of you will succeed. Others won't. Failure is the norm. Recognizing that, coming to peace with that, is freeing. It makes you free to try, to risk, to soar. To fail.
I don't like to fail. I'm sure you don't either.
But today I am thanking God for failure, because I do intend to succeed and I know I can't unless I start with a skinned knee.