I’m standing in the middle of a vast, open field. Everywhere I look, in every direction, the whole 360 degrees, there’s nothing. Just nothing. The field just stretches on and on. I squint, desperately trying to spot something in the distance. A forest, a lake, a mountain, a stack of smoke, something to run towards, something to hope for. But I see nothing. I feel nothing. If I just knew which direction to go, if I could figure out which direction I truly want to go, then I might be able to make progress. I can get anything I want if I work hard enough. But what do I want? Where do I go? Gahhh!
I came up with this metaphor while leaving a voicemail for my older sister. This is how I feel when I try to think of what to do with my life. I don’t feel a pull in any direction, I don’t see any sparkling opportunities, and I have no idea what I want.
“I just want to be happy. I just want to be successful,” I said to her. And an hour or two later, she replied, “This might be terrible advice, but I think you should choose something knowing full well it might turn out to be not awesome. Forget about being successful. Just go out and fail. Yeah. Do it! Go out and fail!”
Forget about being successful? That’s crazy. That’s like saying forget about getting a good job. Forget about raking in six figures. Forget about getting a mortgage. Forget about starting a family while you’re young. Forget about all the arbitrary goals and stuff that stresses you out and just… live. Just live life. Huh. Maybe that’s not such crazy advice.
What’s so stressful about being successful?
The conventions of success are a pain in the ass. It’s miserable to scroll through social media and see all the people who seem to have their lives together and you just feel like you’re wasting your life away. You feel “behind.” Everyone’s married and has a kid and a fancy job, and you’re living alone with a job that is maybe fine for now, but not what you want to do for the rest of your life. The arbitrary goals and the strict timeline loom over you like a gradeschool teacher who catches you napping in her class. That’s stressful.
And you know what else is stressful? Trying to predict both what you’ll like and what you’ll be successful in. It seems impossible to know what you want at times. Sometimes I think I want a turkey sandwich for lunch, only to make it and realize I really wanted the leftover meatloaf. Making decisions is hard, especially when it seems like those decisions will cement you in a lifestyle that you may come to regret.
When I try to step away from all the comparison and conventional success, I find it difficult to actually define success. I mean, what does being successful really mean then if getting married and getting a stable job in that big corporate office by the time I’m 25 is all a hoax? I have no idea. It’s even more difficult to look at my life and point out “things that were a success,” mostly because I’m my own biggest critic. I’m usually quite happy with the work I do, but I always see ways to improve. Everything I do can always be better in my eyes. And so I can’t really define the concrete successes in my life. But when I try to define or point out concrete failures in my life, my response is, “Well, which kind? The Chernobyl nuclear meltdown kind of failure or the I-left-my-crayons-in-the-Florida-sun-all-afternoon kind? Do you want the list in chronological order? Maybe alphabetized?” I’m better at defining failure and I’m better at analyzing it. I learn more from it. I grow more from it.
So I’ve come up with a solution, but it’s really more of an experiment. Instead of searching inside myself to try to uncover what I really want, and instead of trying desperately to find some hidden opportunity that will jumpstart “my success,” I’m going to look for my next failure. I’m going to go after something that could potentially be a train wreck and just see what happens.
And yeah, there are all those self-help books and blogs that tell you to get a plan, to buckle down and do things “properly.” Budget your money like this, slave your life away at your job like that. That’s great. Ya’ll can have fun with all that planning. But I’m going to do something different. I’m not going to plan for success. I’m going to go out and fail.
The mindset I’m proposing isn’t exactly failure-oriented. It’s about exploring, learning, and growth. I’m convinced that when you don’t know what you want, the best way to figure it out is to figure out what you DON’T want. And the best part about hoping for failure? You have no stress or expectation for success! You’re simply going into a job or relationship or extracurricular activity with the “well let’s see how this goes…” mindset. You rid yourself of expectations. The pressure is off.
Failure causes you to learn and grow as a person. When something goes wrong, you have to react quickly. You have to dig yourself up out of the unexpected situation and turn it around. And the more you do that, the more comfortable you become with surprises, the more reliable you are in hard times. Failure builds confidence, boldness, and courage.
So yeah. I’m done hunting for success. I’m done being comfortable and living conventionally. I’m going fishing for failure. Will you join me?