Sunday, April 17, 2011


By Lisabet Sarai

There is no failure. Only feedback.~Robert Allen

Stop me if I've told this story before.

When I was a kid, maybe seven or eight, I took swimming lessons at the YMCA. One day, for some reason, my mother entered me in a race. The first person to complete six laps of the pool would win.

I've never been very athletic. Except for dancing and sex, I'm not a very physical person. Being an obedient child, however, I went along with the plan. The lifeguard blew the whistle and I gamely plunged into the pool along with everyone else.

It soon became clear that I was a much slower swimmer than my opponents. I had barely completed three laps when the race was over. Nevertheless, for some reason, I continued, back and forth, back and forth, until I'd finished the race.

I finally pulled myself out of the pool. Several people applauded. I'd come in last in the race, but I definitely hadn't failed.

When I started thinking about Charlotte's topic, I realized that by my own definition, at least, I've never failed. I've suffered from unrequited love. (Haven't we all?) I've had relationships fall apart, sometimes because of my own actions. I've tried to create things (a book trailer is the most recent item that comes to mind) and found that I just didn't have the skills or the talent to realize my goals. I've applied for jobs that I didn't get. I've submitted research proposals and had them rejected. Of course, I've submitted stories that suffered the same fate.

None of these experiences feel like failure to me. I'm really not sure why this is true. Some people, in the same situations, would moan and sigh and berate themselves for not being sexy enough, loving enough, smart enough, talented enough or lucky enough to succeed. For some reason I seem to be able to shrug this sort of experience off without being too bothered. I do look for reasons, but mostly to try and learn how I might improve my chances of success next time.

Of course, I've had a lot of success compared to the average person. I was valedictorian of my high school class. I got accepted by top universities and was singled out by professors for special learning opportunities. Most of my jobs have been challenging, rewarding and have provided enough money to pay my bills. I published my first novel on the very first try. I've been married to the same great guy for nearly thirty years and still enjoy his company.

So maybe one possibility is that I expect success. In fact, I do. In most cases, when I submit a story for publication, I'm about 75% confident that I'll sell it. When someone rejects my work, I'm disappointed, but I figure that the odds are good I'll get an acceptance next time.

Could it be that I'm just not very ambitious? Certainly, I'm pretty sure that I'm never going to be hugely famous or make a fortune (from my writing or anything else). I have no illusions that I'll ever write the Great American Novel. (Even the great American porn novel!) I recognize that I have limits and I don't agonize over the fact.

Really, it's kind of embarrassing. It seems like I should be afraid of failure, right? Is there something wrong with me?

I don't want to worry. It uses too much emotional energy. I'll just keep on doing my laps, back and forth - doing the best I can to handle what's put in front of me. That's the only way I know how to live.


  1. LIsabet - I can relate to a lot of this post (which makes me wonder what I can write about it) since there's no setback in my life that's been a major stumbling block. Like most people, I suppose, I just keep going.

  2. Hi, Kathleen,

    I'm sure that you'll come up with something!

    It was so amazing meeting you in person! Now I have a face and a voice to associate with your wonderful posts.

  3. It was nice meeting you and your sweet husband too.


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