I could tell you all about my fuck ups…and God are there a plethora…but most of them I knew were bad decisions going in. There was no lesson except, “Don’t do that again.”
The good thing about most of my fuck ups is that the consequences have never been too dire. Ex. I forgot to download the software necessary to use my laptop on the bar exam. It was 100% my fault. I ended up jumping in my car and driving to Nogales and back (2 hr drive) to clear my head. I hadn’t written anything longhand in over three years. I was rightfully afraid of a written timed test. But I passed the bar.
Or the time I got pissed off at this guy Theo for using Facebook to hit on me when I’d only known him because of a friend who had a crush on him. I knew I shouldn’t have gone to his house. But I did. Nothing really happened. But it was stupid of me. And I lost a friend over it…maybe? I dunno. She had a lot of issues.
The point is that I don’t have to explore it. It was dumb going in and dumb coming out. Everyone could have lined up, double file, and warned me that what I was about to do was plain stupid, and I would still have gone through with it because my curiosity drove me there or because usually death was not on the line to motivate me to prevent the fuck up.
What is infinitely more interesting than the fuck up itself is how you proceed afterwards. Up until pretty recently, I beat myself up about them. For years, decades even. I had this autonomic response that kicked in as soon as the memory came up…cringing and then straight into self-hatred.
In my mind, there was no room for failure. Every single failure hurt me to the core. Not just when it happened, but every time I thought back to it, consciously or not.
And then, I was so overwhelmed by failure that my data points skewed in that direction. Failure was no longer as scary as it had been. What was one more failure going to do to me that hadn’t already been done?
Btw: check out Malcolm Galdwell’s David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Battling of Giants for lots on this topic.
Tinder helped with failure. Unlike traditional dating that relies on social networks and commonalities, Tinder is relatively free of that sort of thing…so long as you’re in a big enough town. It’s easy to reject and be rejected because there are no consequences. And, thusly, people can behave like total animals.
In my early days of online dating, I was way too attached to the idea of scarcity. Each rejection felt like a step closer off the plank. One more person who has seen me, judged me, declared me unfitting, and thrown me back onto the heap of undesirables. Not once did I stop to consider that the rejection could have anything to do with something other than my fitness as a permanent life mate.
The funny thing is…I was scared to die alone. Until I almost died alone, and then it didn’t seem so scary. Living unfulfilled…now that terrified me.
I’m reminded of a conversation I had with a very introverted friend. Back in 2014, I admitted to her that I would probably never sleep with anyone again. I was honestly prepared to do that, too. And then she said something that made my jaw drop. “Oh, you will. One day you’ll get lonely enough that you’ll find someone on Craigslist and meet them in a hotel room.”
Specific, very specific indeed. And if you knew the source, your brain would explode. Mine was exploding just from the fact that single people actually found sex <<kaboom>> on Craigslist <<kaboom>> who weren’t creepy sex workers <<kaboom.>>
Failure can make you desperate, is what I thought at the time. I was wrong. Failure as an anomaly can make you desperate. Failure as a statistical certainty frees you up in all sorts of ways.
For me, it allowed me to examine things dispassionately that had already occurred. “Yeah, I fucked that up.” Or, “boy, was I wrong.” It allowed me to go into new situations with only upsides. “What is there left to lose?” And it taught me that failure is easy to recover from. “That didn’t hurt too bad, did it?”
I don’t advocate failure. That would be ridiculous. What I advocate is getting really good at the risk assessment and then making bold but strategic choices. The world unfolds in this very game theory style and everything is a series of choices. The more times you iterate the process, the better you get it ingrained into you. And then you’re not hemming and hawing over decisions. If you fail, game over, maybe. But you just reset the counter and start the level over again. You dust yourself off, build your intuition up a bit more and then tackle the level again until you beat it.
Remember, you’re the only one who’s keeping score. No one else cares nearly as much, and if they remind you of your failures, you may want to re-examine the role they play in you life.
Play the game in your head ten times before you play it for real. Follow the repercussions to their natural ends. You have the data to pull from. It’s called your experience. People would pay good money to have what you have. That data and those lessons are what will get you accelerating as you start to make the choices that get you closer to your goal. If you’re starting from standing still like I did, it might take a while. But your persistence will build up the muscle memory. And then the decisions come quickly and without regret. Because now you know better and one of things you’ll have learned is that life is too short to repeat mistakes. New mistakes, of course! But old ones, that’s just you being lazy.
Speaking of lazy, or malaise rather, I’ve been sick on and off for a month now. Yes, I’m in NYC and it’s easy to get sick here, but I’ve always been of a sickly disposition. I could get sick in a vacuum. I couldn’t tell you the last time I felt the warmth of the sun on my skin. But at least I crave it…unlike in Tucson where I took all the good for granted and all the bad as my personal punishment for never being quite good enough.
I’ll take being out of commission for a while if it means I can live every single day. Like the comatose lady in Amelie, I slept for so long, I’ll never need to sleep again.