When failure really is epic

By AMEER MALIK, junior

STRIVING FOR perfection is a task many students undertake here at JP Stevens. We work hard on projects and studying, and aim for the top positions in extracurricular activities. While these are worthy pursuits, they have caused fear and anxiety for many of us. With this mentality, those of us affected have ruled out the option of failing, dreading the mere thought of performing below extraordinarily high self-imposed standards. While it truly is worthwhile for students to aim to excel, our fear of failure has the capacity to do more harm than good.

People are far from perfect; in fact, throughout history, civilizations have risen and fallen and people have witnessed progress and regression in all areas of society. The Dark Ages, the Renaissance, the Industrial Revolution, the Great Depression — they are all testaments to humankind’s tendency to sometimes fail and other times succeed. When we avoid something natural, we invite unnecessary anxiety, fear, and stress. Success without failure is impossible, and if we accept the possibility of failure in our pursuits, we will begin to act with modesty. We would keep our pride in check and not think of ourselves as leaps and bounds ahead of our classmates. In addition, embracing failure improves our relationships with others. If we allow ourselves to make mistakes, we allow those around us to do so as well; thus, we hold reasonable expectations for our peers and are more forgiving of their inevitable shortcomings.

By being too afraid to make any mistakes, we inadvertently stifle our creative sides. Creativity, in its most basic state, takes a bold, original idea and manifests in some physical way. A painter envisions a masterpiece and places it on a canvas. An author dreams up a story and puts it on paper. A director watches a scene in his head and instructs his actors to recreate it. A fear of failing may stop many of us from attempting to actualize our ideas. We may reject the notion of creating a work of art just because it may not turn out to be as good as we want it to be. The fear of failing is at odds with the artistic process because creativity is all about trial and error; some ideas succeed, others do not, and knowledge of these distinctions allows for the creation of better works. Artists know they are not perfect; in an interview with Paris Review in 1958, American writer William Faulkner, when asked about his contemporaries, said, “All of us failed to match our dream of perfection. So I rate us on the basis of our splendid failure to do the impossible.” Everycreative individual strives to complete a masterpiece that is bold and new. Obviously, this leaves the door wide open to failures, but many artists like Faulkner have embraced the possibility of failure in order to express themselves.

One must not believe that every desire of meritocracy is misguided and detrimental, and no one should embrace failure that he or she stops trying. Though failures are part of what make us human, they do not define us. Our goals, our dreams, and our persistence have allowed humankind to move forward over time. Ideally, a balance should exist between a desire for excellence (not absolute perfection) and an acceptance of failure. This would allow students to both understand their own potential and strive to reach it, while at the same time not push themselves ridiculously past their own capabilities. This way of thinking will also allow one to aim higher and not be disheartened after falling short. Would Edison have perfected the light bulb if his failures had led him to call it quits? Would Lincoln have ever become President if his earlier losses in other elections had discouraged him? In a recent interview with Piers Morgan, Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago attributed his success to his parents allowing him to fail and learn from his failures. Fear of failure restricts us to working only with what we know and what we are comfortable with; instead, embracing shortcomings allows us to strive for greatness and be resilient if we run into a misstep along the way.

Failures have benefits; they show you your weaknesses, keep you modest, and motivate you to work harder if given another opportunity in the future. Embracing the idea of not always being perfect allows us to develop a better understanding of ourselves and lets us take risks that could lead to unimaginable triumphs and successes. Be courageous, and if you fail, dust off your shoulders, and pick yourself up. The only way to truly fail is not to try in the first place.

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