In two days, seated around a table with my extended family, each of us will take a moment to say what we are thankful for, and I will say what I always say: my family, not because I have no imagination to vary my response from year to year, but because nothing else even comes close. But, if I were seated at, say, a Thanksgiving Dinner for Writers Only, I might venture into new gratitude territory, like: my agent, my website, and my writing sweater. Depending on how long I had the floor, I might eventually express thanks for things like the forward delete key, subtext, and yes, failure.
While failure is probably never accorded appreciation around the Thanksgiving dinner tables of America, I often reflect that failure is the best thing that ever happened to me. If I had not failed: my first turkey, my first novel, my first marriage, etc., my list of Thanksgiving blessings would be much shorter. As the saying goes, “If you haven’t failed, you’re not trying hard enough.”
Almost by accident, I stumbled on what is probably common knowledge to most people. Since I once believed that failure was the end of the road, I spent a lot of time in defeat mode over the years, reflecting long and hard on what got me there. As Thoreau said, “If we will be quiet and ready enough, we shall find compensation in every disappointment.” Upon reflection, a new way out of my failure would almost always suggest itself. To my surprise, I learned that failure, while it is an end, is also a beginning. What’s more, failing early saves even bigger problems down the road by creating an opportunity to correct things before it is too late. As my son would tell me, “you *get* to fail.”
Although failure is insensitive, callous, and mean, takes no prisoners and recognizes no prior relationships, I’ve grown cautiously fond of failure the way one might be fond of a pet lion. I’ve even gone so far as to appropriate its ruthless technique, slashing and burning bridges between my current novel’s sixth and seventh drafts. Because the overarching truth about failure, the certainty that redeems all suffering and repays all perseverance, even if I never exactly achieve success: whatever I create after failing is always better than what failed.