ever tried. ever failed. no matter. try again. fail again. fail better. --samuel beckett
i've been thinking about failure lately. it's an interesting thing, failure, because its definition is slippery. what does it mean to fail? does it mean not to accomplish what you set out to accomplish? does it mean to disappoint others by not accomplishing what they expected you to accomplish? does it mean not hitting certain benchmarks of success on a prescribed timeline?
at different moments in my life, failure has meant each of those things. i've nearly dropped out of grad school more times than i can count. each time i felt disappointment in my own failure to achieve what i had planned to achieve. but each time i also felt a wonderful sense of release and opportunity for a fresh start. and i have been accutely aware of the ways in which i have failed to conform to the expectations of others, both in my family and in my church community. but these failures don't feel like personal failures; they feel like explorations and discoveries, my true self emerging from beneath layers of prescription.
the most difficult version of failure i've had to deal with is the failure to achieve life goals on the timeline i've always been taught to accept. i'm 34 and unmarried. i have no children. purchasing a house seems like a distant fantasy. i'm still a student after 14 years of school, and will be for another three. finding a job in my field seems an even more distant fantasy than owning a house. and then there's the complication of being unsure i even want to accomplish those goals. it's a constant struggle to remind myself that it's okay not to have achieved these benchmarks by age XX, that it's okay to be different from the prescribed norm i grew up with. when i fail to remind myself of that, i begin to fail in other ways, too. because dwelling on the fact that where i am in life constitutes failure according to some grand schema developed by someone else interferes with my ability to succeed in my pursuits, making failure all the more likely. it's a self-fulfilling prophecy. not only do i end up a failure according to the prescribed metanarrative, but also according to my own ideas of what it means to be happy and successful.
so i try. i try to remember that i don't want to be married; rather i want to be married to the right person with whom i can have the kind of relationship i want. i try to remember that there is still time to accomplish my goals and many avenues to them, not just one. i try to remember that owning a home is not, in and of itself, a good thing; that sometimes there are alternative and more sustainable ways of living. and mostly i try to remember that the only measuring stick that matters is my own conscience, not others' prescriptions.