Fucking up isn’t failure, and failure isn’t the opposite success. Let’s start there. Let’s start with the almost incomprehensible fact that success is defined, as a culture, as not achieving the desired end. No mention of process. We define success as a failing to perform a duty or expected action, but you guys: success isn’t measurable. You can’t quantify failure by the lack of perceived “success”. Success is character, and that is precisely immeasurable.
Success is not the ability to predict the outcome of any endeavour you undertake. That 1+1+2+1 = 5, always and forever amen. That if you do this internship, and this entry-level job, you’ll end up in this respected position. Success is not money in the bank, or the title on the door. Success is not followers, or hits, or outfits or colour co-ordinated throw pillows. It isn’t a perfect test score or flawless recital.
Success isn’t memorising the lines of script. Success is improvisation. Winston Churchill said it’s stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm. But add to that: there is no failure, then, as long as you keep on trying. Carrying on regardless, assault-like, with a determination to rinse the very most you can out of being alive: good, bad, damned inconvenient. Everything counts. Success isn’t the accumulation of the things we deem “worthy” of praise. Success is the accumulation of having sought, full stop.
Gratitude and kindness. Self-regulation and humour. Zest and appreciation of beauty, wisdom and integrity, citizenship and fairness. Social intelligence. Bravery. Perseverance and empathy. That’s success. That’s human-ness.
That’s how to get through this mind-fuck of existence.
Success is knowing how to apologise. Remembering birthdays. Saying thank you. The skill that persuades your line manager to stay late and help you on a project you can’t master. Asking for help at all.
Fucking up isn’t failure for as long as you have values, and you stick to them. If you go off-course, it’s about how you bounce back from that.
We don’t fuck up by having sex with the wrong person. Losing the promotion. Getting the bad grade. Moving halfway around the world and realising that we preferred home after all. It feels that way. Of course it does. But that feeling isn’t fact. What strength of character have you built to deal with those things? Also, there are some “mistakes” that take a lot to fix the fall out of. Doing your best to fix something you did and knowing that you might never be forgiven is a whole other level of success.
Fucking up is failure if you gauge “success” on getting the “right” result. But who the hell gets to decide what is “right”? If we reframe “success” as “The Dirty Factor”, fucking up transforms from failure to the making of us, and WE get to decide what that means.
The Dirty Factor: the willingness to roll down in dirt of life to grapple with it in order to grow, knowing full well that perfection is nothing to be feared because it doesn’t exist. Isn’t that liberating? PERFECTION. DOES. NOT. EXIST. The Dirty Factor is the active participation in our own lives, in the short time that we’re here. That’s something so many shy away from because it is hard goddamn work. It is emphatically easier to pass through life with a checklist written like we’re all in one big grocery store, and the one with the most at the end wins. When it isn’t black-and-white, when there’s no exact formula for happiness, it makes everything so goddamn uncertain.
But that’s the point. With the Dirty Factor, finding certainty in uncertainty is a win in itself. Failure is often about blame. “I didn’t get what I wanted because of x and y and z.” But there is no blame – nobody’s fault. Life just is. Failure just is. Carry on regardless. Carry on, carry on, carry on.
Trial and error is terrifying. It takes guts. It takes a very high Dirty Factor. But the best bit of all is that we get to make up our own Dirty Factor. We get to define our own terms – because what matters most to one of us isn’t what matters to somebody else and hurray for total autonomy over who we are and what we believe.
We do not have to live life in the way we have been told.
Fucking up isn’t failure. Fucking up is, at best, simply life.