Patrick C. Keaveny

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The Art of Failing

A Relationship With God | Life | Musings | Travel

Before I left for South Africa, all I could think was, “I am not allowed to fail.”

Admittedly, failing is a frequent thing.

For a long time, I’ve wanted to be in a position where I was above failing and letting myself down. It’s been a constant struggle, trying to live without failure, to understand a mistake before I make it, and living so cautiously in fear of letting myself down.

Unfortunately, there have been frequent events in my life that make it difficult to think I am anything but a failure. Even if I wrote down all my successes on paper, there still seems to be a nagging, gnawing feeling that I am somehow going to fail in the future.

It is such a prolonged fear of failing that every now and then I find myself in a state of mind where I am so afraid to fail that I turn into something similar to a bewildered penguin in the Sahara, if said penguin was also deaf, dumb, blind and missing all of its limbs.

This feeling came upon me right off the bat as soon as I moved to South Africa. I wrote a blog post that captured how I felt, which you can read here.

The night before I left, I tweeted something. A tweet, like most tweets, is often not long, descriptive, or detailed. Yet this tweet accurately summed up what I was focused on at the time:

“I am not allowed to fail.”

Walking into the internship in South Africa , I was only concentrated on that idea. That I should not and could not fail. I was not allowed to fail. It didn’t matter how tough things were, how incompetent I was, or if I was even the right man for the job. I was not allowed to fail.

Frankly, such a mindset did help me through some of the more difficult things during my time there, and I felt quite successful during my last few weeks of my internship. But I don’t believe it was because I told myself that I was not permitted to fail no matter what, because instinctively, that kind of mindset feels very wrong.

Over the course of the five months there, I found my mindset  changing. When I first left to go to South Africa, I was focused on the idea that “I am not allowed to fail.”

Yet now, my mindset has changed to:

“I must not be afraid to fail.”

I realized, at some point, that being so afraid to fail made me completely blind to the whole purpose of failing. As J.K. Rowling wisely stated,

It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.

Having a setback is what challenges people to overcome said the struggles of life, to learn from their mistakes, and to grow as an individual. I have found that accepting my failures, learning from them, and using them to grow, is a much better and more mature way to look at “failure” than simply doing my damndest to avoid it.

I have found that in order to be successful at life, love, a career, or even fitness goals, I must keep in mind that failing is a very real and honest expectation. And so, rather than refuse to fail, I must simply learn not to fear it.

“I must not be afraid to fail.”