…If you could not fail…


Post by Auntie Vice


So this morning I grabbed one of my roommate’s coffee mugs. It had the popular quote on it, “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?” So I started thinking about it.

I couldn’t come up with anything because I have become super comfortable with failure. Failure is just part of the process – for stand-up, for writing, for relationships… anything really. People fear failure. They let that limit what they do, what they will try. Sorry to be blunt, but that’s stupid.

Think about anything you have done in your life that you find worthwhile. You failed at it. You probably failed a lot at it. If you are thoughtful, you probably learned from that failure, incorporated those lessons, and got better at it. This is especially true with stand-up. I have never met a comic who has not bombed a number of times on stage. Most comics, when they bomb, make a joke about it. I have seen people say, “Wow, so that joke sucked!” or “I am equally disappointed in my audience,” or any number of things.

Failure is an integral part of the stand-up process. For me, I can write something, think it is hella funny, then when I do the joke on stage — crickets. Or I get a chuckle when I think it should have been a big laugh. Or I get a laugh when I was serious. All of this goes into the bank on what to do next time.

When I talk to people who want to do stand-up but haven’t, they always say they are terrified of sucking at it. I generally look at them and say, “So what?” You are on stage for three or five minutes. It can feel like a friggen’ eternity, then you get off, have a drink and say, “Yup, did that.” Then you go and make the decision if you want to do it again or if it is out of your system.

If you don’t fail, you don’t learn. If you don’t fail, you obviously haven’t tried it. If you don’t fail, you don’t have the opportunity to succeed.

I still basically suck at stand-up. I’m still new, I still need to work on a lot of stuff, and I don’t always have a killer set. But I look at it like I look at my writing. I didn’t really have to write anything until I got to my undergrad program. And when I started writing, I super super sucked at it. I kept doing it because it was part of getting a degree. Then, since I am a masochist, I went to grad school. And I sucked at writing. And I worked on it. And my papers came back with more red on them than road kill. My dissertation is over 700 pages. I wrote nearly 1,200 pages to get to 700 that were acceptable.

In the past 15 years, I have written more than 35,000 pages (that is almost 9 million words). Of that, about 2,500 pages have been published in some form. That means only about 7 percent of my writing has been seen worthy of being seen by anyone. It may seem like a lot of work for a little reward,  but honestly, I am pretty proud of that record. Most people have less than 10 pages published anywhere. If I hadn’t been willing to fail over, and over, and over in my writing (and some of it has been total shite) I wouldn’t even have as much as I do.

So, screw failure. It is going to happen. It is just part of becoming who you are supposed to be.