Learning to Lose: The Freedom in Failure by Claudia Escareño-Clark
Have you ever heard the question, “What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?” A while ago I fell down a self-help/find your passion rabbit hole where questions like these were supposed to somehow propel us into finding our dreams. I would like to change that conversation today and ask, “What would you do if you knew you COULD fail?” What if you tried something new and fell flat on your face and the world didn’t end? What would that look like?
From a young age we are taught to win, to succeed, to go for the gold. Is anyone old enough to remember this Nike ad:
You don’t win silver, you lose gold. Really? Really. That became a metaphor that I chose to live my life by for far too long. I would attempt new things if I thought I had a chance of winning. But if that outcome seemed slim than there was no point in trying. I mean really, who wants to be second best?
I recently discovered that there is a certain freedom in failure. In my clinical skills class we were talking about how it is okay to make mistakes in therapy. If we can build enough rapport with our clients, they’ll be willing to correct us when we make a wrong turn, but the process of therapy can still move forward. That can take the pressure off of thinking we are going to walk into every single session of our lives and get it all right. Our willingness to make mistakes might even teach us more than we would have learned by playing it safe.
Obviously, this new relationship with failure does not only apply to therapy or counseling. A couple months ago I signed up for a black and white film photography class. It was a little intimidating after shooting on digital for so long, but my professor has been great and completely supportive. In passing he had offered to loan me an old Hasselblad that belongs to the school. I picked it up last week and after a 15 minute tutorial I was on my way. I completely forgot about the focus magnifier, and the light meter was not the easiest to figure out. In other words, I wasted a couple rolls of film. That’s what I thought, anyway. Once I made my contact sheet I actually really liked the blurry mess that I’d made, and in all honesty, I’d had a blast using this almost 60 year old camera and found so much inspiration working with my friend, Caitlin. All because I was willing to fail.
Our society focuses so much on winning and success. That’s what we teach our kids. That’s often how we choose our jobs. But I think we are missing the point by not knowing how to fail. I’m not writing this so that we all stop trying to win and just give up. I am writing it in the hope that by making peace with losing and failure, we’ll actually be able to explore all of the things that the fear of such has kept us from. I hope you find something at which you are willing to fail. The outcome might surprise you.
Claudia Escareño-Clark is a year two counseling student at Southwestern College.