When I set out to write this blog post, I was going to link to a whole slew of epic fails.
… once upon a time, there was a site dedicated to some pretty epic fails. I failed to find the fails. They were… wins? Cool things? Some propaganda, but no fails.
I checked through three pages of archives.
I failed to find the fails, and the irony of this made me laugh quite a bit.
So, come journey with me on a rambling discussion on failures–and what failures birth, which is success. There is a liberal amount of cursing, so you may want to look away at some places, if that sort of thing bothers you. This applies to writing, in a certain sense, although I'll be illustrating the point with photography rather than the written word.
Failure can be a beautiful thing. When it happens to us, we don't like it… generally. I'm going to pretend those who are either masochistic or sadistic don't exist right now. I definitely don't like it, though I've been told I belong in both camps for some reason. (I'm a writer… isn't it obvious?) There's a certain amount of dread and anxiety I associate with failure, whether I scored poorly on a test, stubbed my toe while falling up the stairs ( a common occurrence, I assure you), or not meeting a goal I set for myself. It's usually negative.
However, it's merely one side of a coin. I'm a firm believer that failure can lead to really good things–if I take the time to learn from my mistakes and do something about it. It can be motivational. I don't like the feeling of failure. It reminds me I'm not perfect (le gaspe!!!) and that I need to keep improving. Without this feeling, I don't think I'd work nearly as hard to avoid feeling it again.
Failure is the mother of success, in my opinion, because without the bitterness of defeat, I don't think I'd have the motivation to push myself as hard as I can.
In short, I enjoy the thrill of success, and only through failure am I able to reach that place. If everything was easy, if I never failed at anything, I don't think I'd go nearly as far.
But failure hurts. Losing hurts. It doesn't just hurt–it sucks a lot.
I want to draw your attention to the photograph above. It is a picture of a lion fish. I took it. It is one of seven or eight lion fish pictures I took, and the only one worth keeping–the others were blurred beyond salvation, or I got a shot of a fish ass, which didn't interest me as a photographer. I'm sure there's a market for fish ass, but it's not me. I know, I'm such a prude.
If I want fish ass, I'd like caviar. It comes from a fish's ass–but I don't like caviar, so more fish ass for you folks!
Going back to the picture… in short, six or seven failures happened before I found one picture I wanted to keep. But because one shot didn't work, I kept trying, until I got one I could be happy with.
I was not leaving Mandalay Bay's Shark Reef without a picture of a lion fish. I used to have one as a pet, and it made me happy seeing them–and remembering my mother's pet lion fish. Lion fish! Lion fish!
There's a lesson here for me, and maybe for others, if they care. Success, even for small things like taking a photograph, isn't guaranteed. Try, try, and try again. Sometimes, you'll bust. Other times, you'll get lucky and the lion fish will stare you in the camera, all pissed you're pointing things in his face.
More importantly: Lion fish are fucking ninjas. Don't let that spiky, hey, look at me!!! visage fool you. They're fucking ninjas. Not only are they fucking ninjas, they will kill you. Kings of the mother fucking ocean, I tell you. Forget sharks, whales, and so on. Lion fish rule the seas.
I warned you I would ramble, didn't I? If not, consider yourself schooled.
Sometimes success isn't directly accompanied by failure. On the same trip I met Mr. Ninja Lion Fish, King of the Mother Fucking Ocean, I also met a bee. I stalked this bee, because he was pretty, and he was with flowers. I like bees, and I like flowers. I had my camera.
I don't like being stung by a bee. Bee stings fucking suck. So, respect those bees, yo!
I took a single photograph and moved on. Here is the result.
I have now subjected you to bee ass. You're welcome. Because bee ass is far superior to fish ass.
There was no direct failure associated with this photograph, but because I spent so much time failing with other photographs, I had the skill I needed to capture a little bee in one shot. What? You haven't seen failures yet? Here, let me introduce you.
To make this make sense, I'm going to showcase a ‘success', and then I'm going to showcase a bunch of photographs I had to take to get that one success. I'm going to showcase a squirrel.
Squirrels are motherfucking ninjas, too, in case you didn't know.
You may notice I put quotes around success above. That's right, I did. Let's look at this mother fucker hockey playing squirrel who is ready to take your face and smash it on the ice. His legs are blurry, and he's kinda… he's going to get you with those demon paws. You're fucked, we're all fucked. He must have taken lessons from the Lion Fish.
It's not a well-composed picture… but it's so comical I love it. Therefor, to me, it is a success. Success and failure is sometimes a personal opinion. I really like this photograph, so it is a failure.
That's right, squirrels. Now, for an entire gallery of fail squirrels! I find there's something wrong with pretty much every single photograph in this gallery. There's one I was on-the-fence over, but ultimately, it didn't make my list of favorites, so it counts as a failure.
Some of you may disagree. My failures might count as a success for someone else… and that's a good thing. It's a sign of progress and alteration of goals. Once upon a time, any one of these photographs would have been a success for me, but I wanted to get better than what I was, so what used to be successes became failures.
There's a moral of the story in here somewhere, and I'm pretty sure it doesn't have to do with photography, although I'm sure you really wanted to see pictures of ninja animals being awesome.
There are times you don't get to decide what a failure or success is. That's a part of life. But, you control how you approach your failures and successes.
Will your success be good enough, or will you decide you can do better?
Failure is how you learn you can do better. Success is the reward for doing better.
But the real trick is in deciding that a simple success isn't good enough, and that there are more hills to climb. Sometimes you can't turn failure into successes, either. Throw away the bullshit your mom and dad told you about being able to do anything. You can't. If you're an asthmatic person, you're not going to be modeling the walkway wearing perfume. You'd die.
If you're someone with average IQ, becoming a rocket scientist may not happen for you either. But that's a failure you can learn from–just because you can't become a rocket scientist because holy fuck those people are super smart doesn't mean you can't learn from them, and it doesn't mean you can't love rocket science.
It just means you are a hobbyist instead of career-oriented, and you can hunt for successes within your reach.
But that's another beauty of failure: Only through failure can you learn your limitations. Limitations exist for all of us. I have lots of them, and many of them involve social awkwardness. I never did pick up on social cues very well, so I don't get along well with as many people as I would like to. (This may be a case of trying too hard.)
The truly brave, the truly admirable… those people find those limitations through effort, work, and ultimately failure. And when they can, they surpass those limitations.
Failure hurts, but it's a beautiful thing.