Feb 19, 2013

Failure: Quantified

For Christmas this year, I received a coffee mug from a good friend. It's one of those Quotable Mugs with an adage. It says WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF YOU KNEW YOU COULD NOT FAIL? This particular friend and I have a history of challenging our limits, so it was the perfect gift.

Just this morning, I woke up, looked at the box on my bookshelf, and began wondering. What the hell would I do if I knew I could not fail? I pondered the notion as I peed. I continued thinking as I took a daily dose of Zantac and ibuprofen, and watered my plants. I started to panic after ten minutes when i realized I had no effing idea what I would do if I could not fail.

I went downstairs. I put on a pot of water to boil and ground coffee grains.

A film short played in my mind. I whisked my boyfriend and I off to Mo'orea where we rented a cottage for a year. I wrote and wrote. He played music and ran around the island to get closer to his idea of his physical ideal. We slept in a hammock some nights, and other nights we didn't sleep at all...

Then, the image faded and fear settled in. Why was that my image of defying failure? Why can't I defy failure in my life right now? I tend to get very angry with myself; many of you know this. It's a side effect of the tumor of guilt I've carried around for two and a half decades. And it doesn't help that the version of me seen by those at my school and workplace is of this confident and unstoppable man. I'm really just a little boy scared to death of this big bad world. I'm even afraid of myself. When I start to fear myself, I count my failures. This is like counting cooked rice grains in a lotus bowl; they stick together and to my fingers. It's not the most pleasant experience, but there's something comforting and fascinating about the way the rice feels. I quickly realize I cannot count the failures in my life because I cannot remember all of them - they've rolled away.

So, what would I do if I knew I could not fail? I'd be more vulnerable and open to the world. I'd buy a plane ticket to Paris and a train ticket to Vancouver. I'd go to the places I've wanted to go for years. I've dreamed of spending weeks or months in a secluded spot since I was in high school. Even though I am an extremely extroverted person, I recognize my need to be totally, or close to, alone. I'm not afraid of that idea. Now I'm starting to fear this post makes no sense. FAIL, it could be a four-letter word. Or it could be a motivator. 

Tomorrow, when I wake up, I am going to stare that little box down and accept its challenge.

If you're in Grand Rapids, head to Spirit Dreams in Eastown!


  1. Hm. I have no idea what I'd do if I knew I could not fail either... but.. hmm. I don't know. Maybe all this means is you're doing it RIGHT, Jon, and that failure has become an irrelevant detail.

    Maybe you are braver and stronger than you know, and that, sir, is awesome.


  2. Great sentiment. As my 8 year old tells me every week, "NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE, MOM!" And he means it.

  3. I feel like I am doing some of the things that I would do if I knew I couldn't fail. It's exhilarating and freakin' scary all at the same time!

    Phew. Just keep keepin' on.