I. Defeat is listed as a synonym for failure, but don’t buy that. Failure isn’t terminal; it’s the 37 times you fall before you skate a full lap around the roller rink. Or the four dozen eggs you crack before making the perfect omelet.
If you’re a real optimist, it’s the stepladder you climb to Figuring Things Out.
If you’re Roget, it’s a lead balloon or a total loss.
Success shows up as an antonym. That seems fair, but it certainly doesn’t tell the whole story.
II. Last Sunday, I went kayaking with my family and then hid myself away in the bedroom to spend a couple of hours looking for a way to rewrite a subhead. I never found it. And I’m supposed to believe I’m better for that? It got me out of watching Three Amigos, I guess, but I missed popcorn and snuggles.
III. Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” And Michael Jordan said, “I can accept failure. Everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.” My fantasy boyfriend (because wouldn’t he be the most fun!) Samuel Beckett gave us the great “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
If you wanted to make a lot of inspirational posters about the benefits of failure, you’d have your pick from hundreds of thousands of great quotes. Makes you wonder why so many terrific minds felt compelled to offer advice about not-terrific moments.
Probably because failure is fucking awful. It’s like broccoli, or like I imagine kombucha to be. You have to hold your nose and remind yourself that it’s good for you and just get through it. You’ll be better for it—superior, finer.
IV. The synonyms are flowing because I’ve had Thesaurus.com open in my browser for several days now, looking for a better way to write a headline that failed. It’s tough math, but I did it for you: Last week, more than two-thirds of the ideas I presented fell flat. Fine. It was way more than that, to the tune of about 75%.
Those swatted-down headlines, concepts, taglines, and company names weren’t defeats, of course. They were part of working in a creative field. And, happily, part of getting to much better ideas. (Usually.) At a company that specializes in naming things, writers go through about 2,000 throwaways before getting to the 30 or so that actually get presented to the client. That’s a lot of defeat, disappointment, inadequacy.
Or it’s just what you do. And do and do and do.
The frustration (also a synonym for failure) for all of us here—and probably our clients—is that it’s as common to spend 15 minutes getting to a great idea as it is to spend three days painfully, dedicatedly, prolifically concocting crap.
V. Misadventure also appears in the synonyms list, and this one seems righter. It’s a road you go down, full of hope and maybe ice cream, perhaps with a few friends. It’s a way of discovering something you weren’t looking for that might even be better than what you set out to find.
A misadventure leads you over a mountain pass when you meant to be on the highway, eats up your travel time but gives you views that fry your brain with beauty.
Nobody calls that failure.
VI. Nobody tries to fail, either. Unless subconsciously, or in a madcap movie plot involving an ill-advised wager?
We all wanna win, but the story never gets interesting until the race car driver crashes, the restaurateur loses her business, or Alec Baldwin gets between a man and his coffee.
What’s good on screen or in a novel just royally blows in real life, though, and so it’s the rare bird indeed who can fall face-first and be grateful. Better to plunge than never to soar, you say?
Of course, of course.
Bloodier, but . . . bolder.