It has come to my attention that I am a failure. I have failed, am failing, will very likely fail in perpetuity. I have grabbed the brass ring, taken the bull by the horns, carped the diem; in each case I came up not just short of expectations, but separated from them by the length of a desert. I can’t actually recall with any precision what I expected; I only know that what I got for my efforts was not among them. I am a loser, and to the loser go not the spoils but the rags that clean the spoils up; also a t-shirt, and years of regret, disappointment, and shame.. I am … I have … I will … I can go on all day.
Accepting that you have failed is not something you just realize upon waking up. It accumulates gradually over time until you feel it itching and oozing within you. It’s like earwax, basically, and there are only so many ways to unburden yourself of it before it builds up all over again. And like earwax it is one of those pesky facts of life. If that opening paragraph seems rather melodramatic in isolation, try imagining it being intoned in unison. A vast chorus of internal monologue, droning away at any time of the day and in any state of activity. It’s like if Glenn Branca did Gregorian chant, but I digress.
I am a failure; you, too, are a failure. I don’t mean that as an accusation, only as a statement of truth. We are a failing species. It has been crocheted into our DNA with a logical imprecision that is very characteristic of us. A human life with even the least obstructed agency will go to its death drawer with a failure-to-success ratio wildly, almost implausibly, lopsided to the former. Of course that is why success is given such stature at all, and why whole businesses are created to show people how to deal with failure.
I don’t disapprove of the failure business as such, but I take issue with how they conduct their service. It’s fine to charge people a fee in exchange for showing them how to cope with failure and to remind them of its likelihood. They just never seem to leave it at that. I guess it’s not a lot of bang for the several bucks being put in. Some businesses tell you how to cope with failure while adding that failure in itself is a virtue. Failure offers “teachable” incentives or otherwise reveals your character in ways that relationships, rewards, and reasonable expectations never do. What is there to do but to continually and consciously fail? By risking more and losing every time, you will presumably have weathered every possible setback and endured every level of embarrassment, achieving finally a heightened level of existence, which you call “success.” By any other person this would be “peace of mind,” but it’s peace of mind shot through the prism of delusion with the force of a cannon. That’s still pretty sane compared to the other business approach, which teaches basically the same process but with the promise that there is a light at the end of the tunnel: the gleam of a polished trophy, bearing your name and whatever it is you wanted to achieve this whole time — good luck picking just one thing.
It’s very easy for me to sit here calling everyone a failure then at the same time trashing the apparatus put in place to relieve its sting. I should probably have a very good reason for doing so, or else I would just be a troll, a role which no one agrees that I have mastered at playing. Well, you’re in luck, as I do, in fact, have a good reason. Or should I say a solution? I’ll leave you to determine that.
That failure ever became a problem is probably one of the greatest failures of our already failure-prone horde. But this is how it always ends up for us. Things go great until some sort of corruption is allowed to enter either by misplaced trust or managerial oversight. It shall forever be a mystery as through what means success was introduced to the human race. It is possible that someone managed it by accident, envisioning a desired end and replicating it almost exactly in reality. Or it could have been suggested, perhaps innocently, as a kind of perspective-enhancing counterfactual.
As expected, though, history comes up empty of accounts of anyone willingly taking credit for this fuck-up. Why should we, when it is clear that success is one of the stupidest, cruelest concepts ever entered into our consciousness? Success: that great destabilizing chemical of our psyches, that great inflamer of our egoist membranes. It is a potent drug, culled from our aspirational ether, designed to please us by inches and to deceive us by eons. The problem remains: how is success derailed, bested, and exiled forever from our troubles? Alas, it is not; for the success business is going to end up a lot like the failure business.
It is thanks to the failure business that we tend to think the worst part of success is in its pursuit. It’s not good, sure, but at least success remains entirely abstract, an idea in someone’s head that motivates them and distracts them from anything persuasively worse than that one goal. This is preferable to actual success, which offers no such comfort. What, in fact, is worse than substantially achieving your wildest aspiration? Death? Narrowly surviving a drone attack? Going to prison? Those assuredly suck, but to the successful they all seem elevated in their appeal compared to what he or she is already enduring.
We tend to think we can identify the successful. Given that failure is so prominent they do seem to stand out. They are, we assume, people imbued with confidence, people we like to emulate, to whom we either confer dignified respect or bitter envy. They are clever or they are hot or they are charming or they are all of the above. How little we know. Indeed, this is just us projecting our own abstractions onto them. Removed of the illusion, the successful appear in their real, reduced form: drastically emaciated with no muscle mass to speak of, eyes sunken and bloodshot, teeth crooked and jaundice, flesh flabby and grey, and posture curved like an italicized question mark. Their walk is sluggish and meandering, each creek of their bones singes deep into the ear canals of any onlooker. The successful are tired: tired of winning.
As we dare not engage them at our level lest we shatter our own illusions, we fail to hear their whispered pleas to be saved, to be freed from the prison of their own making. Seemingly of their own making anyway; for no one truly knows the source of success. Though it is accepted that our own efforts have minimal effect, the debate lingers if it is foisted largely by ill-fortune or by malice of an independent party. In any case, the successful are, at the very least, impossible to save. It is more prudent that we, the failures, do what we can to prevent success from ever touching us.
Our best defense is to take the failure business approach and turn it on its head. Success isn’t something we search out or come at sideways; success is hunting you. Not really hunting, exactly, but lying in wait: a well-concealed unmarked cop car on the freeway. Success is a predator of opportunity. It doesn’t matter if you’re alert or aloof about success, if you’re there, and it sees you, you’re fucked. Once you’re subject to its law, the change it enables is rapid and destabilizing. The world you once knew in failure shrinks from connected and expansive to isolate and narrow. The nature of success, no matter the size of it, takes precedence over any other priority of your identity. Soon, anything related to your life of failure becomes remote or forgotten. You end up paying endless tribute to your success. The world is not closed off to you but success pulls you where it wants you to go, which turns out not to be very many places; places, of course, optimal for being seen. You soon find just how forced the smiles of the successful are when the muscles of your face move independently of your own desires like a kind of rubber, forced in place by success’s infernal puppetry.
On this understanding, our object is not to perversely pursue failure or to contend with its reality, but to avoid success with extreme vigilance. We, the non-successful, must be alert to its many traps. Think of it as nothing short of psychological and cerebral warfare.
Make as detailed a list of your aspirations as you can. Impose strict critical standards that you hadn’t in a more complacent mindset until most of them are deemed impossible. For those that remain, oversaturate yourself with information about them until there’s nothing left to know about them and, hence, nothing left to pursue. Once all aspirations are killed, seek the aspirations of others, in particular those for which your interest is nonexistent. Bore yourself with culture, adventure, prospects of growth, prosperity, and happiness. Enhance your skepticism to the level of a sixth sense until every opportunity is too good to be true, a scam in the making, a red flag, or an affront to your security and/or dignity. If your love language is words of affirmation, change it to words of discouragement. Refuse to acknowledge compliments, they do not exist, they are gaslighting. Use your free time to lie in bed for hours looking up at the ceiling. If that’s too meditative, binge-watch the whole season of Back with the Ex with no lights on. Rewatch it immediately. Don’t learn to code.
These may be too rudimentary to mount a complete and invulnerable defense, but it is a suitable start in developing the correct mindset to strengthen it over time. Soon you will start to look on success and all its berserk trappings as a kind of clownish theatre — strange and archaic if not exactly worth laughing at.
The naysayers doubtless wait in the dark to tear this plain to pieces. It is harmful, they’ll say. The product of a warped mind, some might add. It sows fear and anxiety; it cuts down confidence and self-respect. So what if it does? I don’t see you coming up with any bright ideas. Sure, committing your life to avoiding Hell rather than admittance to Heaven is probably not practice of the fullest, purest holiness; but it’s not unholy. I guess we’ll have to wait and see which one fails better.