I’ve had a couple of opportunities lately to explore and examine the ramifications of a discovery I made a few years ago.
In 2005 I applied to grad school for the first time. Despondent that my life was a dead end I reached out to a few universities in the hopes that I could begin to transition into something resembling adulthood. I had rediscovered my passion for performance and needed more than an outlet; I needed someone, or something, to guide me to a better version of myself.
I won’t say I got nowhere, but I didn’t get in anywhere. I was given instead an exotic and romantic opportunity to study in Moscow, and suffered a real belly drop when the opportunity was taken from me at the last minute. Frustrated isn’t a strong enough word to convey what I felt after a year and a half on a relationship destroying, personal effects selling, cash wasting (Russian lessons instead of getting out of debt) venture.
So I came to Chicago instead, following a relationship that only survived a few months after the move. Another relationship bloomed and suffered a long, slow death. Jobs were won and lost, along with about forty pounds. I got into graduate school, finally. I found a fulfilling hobby. I even loved and lost again (a lifelong thematic element, it seems).
I’ve spent the last couple of Saturday mornings staring at a room full of college graduates and high school seniors, many of them with fear and anxiety in their eyes as they audition for the school from which I’m about to graduate. I’m of two minds about watching what they’re going through. Of course it’d be nice for them to succeed, but frankly, if they’re like me… it may be better for them if they didn’t. Not at first, anyway.
Failure is a gift.
Failure at one opportunity isn’t failure forever. If you don’t get the job, or the university, or the audition, no one will stamp your hand and force you to choose another life path. You don’t get this one, but there are other worthwhile paths to take. The glorious mystery of what could have been may sharpen the pain of loss, but I’ve also secured plenty of opportunities I later regretted taking. Or going for. Or wanting in the first place.
If I’d made it into school the first time I would never have been to Moscow, where I affirmed my talent and passion for performance without the pressure of passing the class. If I’d stayed in Moscow I would have forsaken an old dream for a new one, and now I live in Chicago – a place I’d wanted to be since I first visited half a lifetime ago.
And I’ve learned the lesson applies on a smaller scale, too. I regularly host a burlesque show, a task which involves writing and performing comedy. I’m constantly searching for the best joke and the best delivery, but no matter what I come up with it always ends up better when I fail. A joke falls flat, or some bit of tech craps out, or a well-timed unexpected audience response throws a speed bump in my delivery. The way I react to any of these failures grants a better audience response than anything I have ever done intentionally.
Life moves on whether you’re moving with it or not. Pain will come either way. But staying put in your pain instead of moving on and taking the next risk will only beget rot and stagnation. Indeed, I can trace the origins of my every success to the failure that spawned it. Am I happy because, or in spite of the fact that I never got my first choice? I’ll never know. But failure has taught me to appreciate everything I do have, and to take nothing for granted.