Of all the modern maxims that have come to define the maker-tinged self-help culture of the 21st century, the one that gave me the most trouble was the notion that you must be unafraid to fail, and fail often. Indeed, one’s life could be defined as a pattern of repeated failures, until one day - success!
There are a few cultural forces that have pushed this idea to the fore, from the emergence of a post ’90s world of economic uncertainty to a malformed metaphor transplanted from Karl Popper’s notion of empirical falsifiability. But the counter-intuitive nature of necessary failure never appealed to me on a basic, emotional level. I never knew it in my gut, as it were. In other words, failure had failed for me.
Until a couple of days ago, when a corollary dropped into my brain from whatever matrix gestates corollaries: In order to get something right, you must be unafraid to get it wrong. Perhaps repeatedly. You must get something wrong again and again until you get it right. The right answer is the last answer, and unless you’re a faultless genius, you’re not going to get to the right answer immediately. Not every time.
This has stopped me from accomplishing so, so much. If I can’t be right - indeed, if I can’t be authoritative off the bat - then I withdraw and keep my contribution to myself. I have refused to risk exposure. It’s kept me warm and relatively unblemished, but the price of that glossy surface is a slack set of emotional and intellectual muscles.
For a period of years, I had incorporated the notion of being wrong into my personality as a slightly dark joke, a constant check on my ego. The online alter ego I had chosen for myself, palinode, said it all: the word means ‘retraction.’ It’s a formal apology for getting it wrong. I had taken the thing I most feared and made it my namesake.
Anyway, here’s to being disastrously, foolishly wrong. It’s the only way to get things right.