Self-help junkies hate to admit that unfiltered self-expression inevitably results in embarrassing mistakes and mishaps. The romanticization of failure, struggle, and authenticity is a good thing, but it is rarely contextualized with concrete examples of failure.
When failure and the integrity it necessitates are kept in the abstract, they sound attractive indeed.
However, once we actually see someone acting with integrity around disapproving peers, or failing at something they are passionate about, the prospect of doing the same ourselves becomes repulsive.
From our privileged perspective as an outsider, we can say: “What a fool! Doesn’t he realize what he’s doing?”
The closer the failure is to us, the more likely it is to affect us and spread like an infectious disease, the more conservative we become with our own ambitions and creative instincts.
We fear the mess, the chaos, the rejection above all else. The fear and disgust for these things are programmed into us at the biological level. An intellectual understanding of the positive power of failure or the wondrous freedom of honest expression is not sufficient for overriding our instinctual aversions.
We must measure failure beside the ultimate goal towards which we aim. It is in regards to this goal that failure is necessary, and authenticity rewarded.
Failure is not good, but it can be useful.
Failure can hurt us, but aren’t there some things for which it is worth it to get hurt?
Authentic self-expression can lead to severed relationships, but what use is a relationship that honesty can break?
We must measure failure by the quality of our long-term outcomes. The approval of others is weak evidence for any given action’s utility in achieving our goals.
Other people don’t know what we are aiming at, or why.
We ourselves may aim at the wrong thing, and find that our vision of success was due to a failure in self-knowledge. Such pitfalls are numerous and necessary, but no amount of affirmations or mind-expanding quotes will change the simple fact that failure is a very painful thing.
The successful person does not love failure and rejection.
They choose a goal so large that pain and frustration are rendered insignificant.