For me, one of the very best things about blogging has been the opportunity to connect with people I've long admired from afar. One of these is writer Laura Zigman, author of several books including the darkly hilarious bestseller Animal Husbandry.
Like practically every writer I know, Laura has been riding out the ups and downs of a publishing world changing so fast that it seems in perpetual free fall. But unlike most writers, she's managed to turn setbacks into material, most recently in a series of brilliantly witty Xtranormal videos, including "Failure Is the New Success," which she graciously agreed to share here. (She has a lot more to say about the Xtranormal series -- and the creative process -- in this terrific interview.)
The ability to make creative use of setbacks — to incorporate them into our larger story — is perhaps the most useful of all Plan B Nation talents (with added points for black humor). No one does this better than Laura. I’ve never admired her more.
Five or six years ago, I wrote 100 pages of a non-fiction book about failure.
And guess what?
It failed to sell to a publisher!
I love that punch-line -- now -- but at the time, the failure of my failure book made me feel like a total loser. No one was buying failure at the time as a general topic — even all tarted up with a “positive” title like “Failure: A Love Story,” since failure, especially financial, wasn’t as widespread as it is now. The fact that my own personal economic recession started long before everyone else’s — before the actual and legitimate economic recession — was embarrassing, and alienating. Back then, failure was failure, plain and simple: a shameful little secret you confessed to as few people as possible, not only to preserve your own dignity but also to spare others the discomfort of dealing with your lack of success.
It’s different now!
Failure is cool! Failure is hip!
Failure has had a complete make-over and rebranding!
Failure has become a competitive sport everyone wants to win at!
If I were pitching my failure story now, I’d boast that I was a failure long before everyone else was. That I was at the “forefront in the trend of downhill-career-trajectories.” A “trail-blazer in metabolizing professional and artistic disappointment.”
Failure has become something to brag about and these days, everyone’s out there bragging about what a huge failure they were.That little word — were — is crucial, because it’s past tense. It means recovery from failure, triumph over failure. Failure is the ball and chain of success and there isn’t anything more pride-worthy than shedding the ball and chain and living to tell the tale. Or, boast about the tale. Nothing’s more American than a great comeback story — a story of redemption and reinvention. A story of survival, and self-reliance, resilience, and will to claw your way back from failure to the shores of success, even if you’re down on all fours, combat-crawling on arrival.
This Xtranormal video is about this new kind of failure: "shame-free failure." And about the new phenomenon of bragging about failure. The idea that if you succeed at failure long enough you will ultimately win at it. I’m not sure that winning at failure is the same thing as winning in general — as true success — but for those of us who are tired of losing, we’ll take it!
Amy Gutman is a lawyer and writer who lives and works in Plan B Nation.