Fail is a four-letter word

A revolutionary failure
The Liberator from Blakes 7 – a series where the good guys failed to win

In the world of Blakes 7 fandom, there are many hotly debated issues, but the end of the series is particularly divisive. There are many fans who feel let down by the fact that everyone (debatably) died and that the evil Federation ‘won’. Personally, I have always been happy, although obviously also devastated, that it ended in such a strong way; I would have hated for the series to drag on too long and then just fizzle out. I have posed the question before – if it had had a happier ending, would I still be obsessed with it forty years later?

However, this isn’t an essay about Blakes 7; I’ve just used that for illustrative purposes. My real aim is to talk about the nature of failure and to determine whether I should feel more disturbed by my failures (they are many). It seems, even before the rise of social media, that we have been increasingly encouraged to sanitise our failings and the word “fail” itself has been demonised. The mantra nowadays seems to be “praise the successes, gloss over the failings”. I, for one, am beginning to wonder if this is really wise.

This has been on my mind over the weekend because I have been watching YouTube videos by someone who writes, self-publishes, and also has a business advising other writers about planning their work/lives. The channel is Heart Breathings, if you would like to check her out; I’d say she does about 50% good commonsense and advice and 50% hustle, and there are a lot of YouTube channels out there with much more hustle. I will come clean and admit I watch a lot of YouTube videos in search of inspiration about tackling my own lackadaisical approach to planning. You have my permission to question whether watching YouTube videos is a sensible way of dealing with a lack of enthusiasm and determination or whether it is yet more procrastination.

I watched one particular video in which this writer and her buddy had a writing retreat and I found myself wondering about the fact that she didn’t meet the targets she set herself. Now, she is heavily pregnant which would definitely affect her ability to work, and the word count goals she had set at the beginning of the break seemed incredibly high to me. Although the first day was mainly travel, she was already far behind her target at the end of it and I wondered why she didn’t revise her target based on that fact. It is fine and dandy to forgive yourself for not achieving your targets, but you need to be realistic when you decide whether you can catch up over a set amount of time, and if you can’t, you will need to lower your expectations.

One of the most interesting things my weekend’s viewing has me thinking is that I should care more when I fail. If failure doesn’t upset me, then what I was trying to do wasn’t important in the first place. I’ll be honest: I’m getting on, I don’t have time to be doing things that I don’t care about. Failure is a feeling, as are success, love, and hunger. Why would I waste my remaining days ignoring such feelings or, worse, not feeling them at all? To a certain extent, we judge which things we care deeply about not only by how happy we are when we succeed, but also by how we feel when we fail at them. When something is important to us, the stakes are automatically higher. We can shrug off a disparaging comment from a stranger far more easily than the same comment from someone we know and admire.

From the partial reading I have done of The Bullet Journal Method (see my previous One Book July musings), one strong idea I have taken away is that if you continually fail to do a particular thing on your list, you would be wise to examine whether it is actually important to you. I am guilty of carrying certain tasks forward from day to day, often tiny tasks that take no time at all to do, because I don’t feel any sense of guilt that I didn’t do them. I need to look at each of these things and ask if I actually care about it. If I do, then I should feel guilty that I am pushing it endlessly into the future; if I do not then I shouldn’t be trying to do it at all.

It reads as if I just spent the whole weekend watching videos, but that is not the case. I spent a couple of hours on Saturday sketching out a version of a planning page that would help me to set goals for the next quarter of the year and break them down into a list of tasks for each month and week. Doing this, I discovered that I don’t actually have a problem with the goal-setting side, and I can see the actions I need to achieve the goal, but I struggle with the concept of assigning particular things to set time periods. Perhaps it is because the projects I am currently working on really consist of doing the same thing repeatedly. Take, for example, searching for a job, which involves checking out particular sites for vacancies each day. I can’t control how many suitable jobs will be advertised in a week, so I can’t plan ahead to put in, say, two job applications every week. All I can do is repeat the process and ensure that when I see a vacancy that I think will suit me I send an application in a timely manner. That doesn’t count as ‘planning’;  it is, by its very nature, reactive. There is a more proactive method which is to send of a set number of ‘cold-call’ letters every week on the off-chance that someone might be thinking about hiring, but that doesn’t appear to be how the job market works nowadays. There is a similar conundrum with writing my novel: I am trying to write a minimum of 500 words a day and the aim of finishing first draft will be achieved when I’ve finished telling the story. In this instance, the proactive course would be to determine at the outset the number of words I want the novel to come in at and set goals of when I want to be at the 25,000 or 50,000 words mark. That is certainly something I want to consider. Funnily enough, knitting is the one thing where I find it very easy to set goals and break down a project into components – when I want to have the back or the sleeves finished by. In fact, if I could approach different types of projects with the same clarity that knitting has, life might be a little easier.

So, here we are, heading into a new week and it might seem negative to start off with the objective of feeling more disappointed and unhappy if I don’t do things well, but being disappointed by my failures is a key component in moving forward. After all, fail is a four-letter word, but if I own my failures and use them as rocks to form the foundation of the life I’m trying to build, it does not have to be a bad word.

 

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Knitting progress slowing

26-06-19 Progress

Last week I had two sleeves completed of my Norah Gaughan cable-front cardi and, as you can see, I’ve added the two narrow front pieces to it, so I’m about 40% of the way there. Progress will now slow to a crawl as I am back at work for the next month and I can already see that I will only have time in the evenings to eat, tidy, have a bath and do one activity. Luckily the temporary job I’m in is way outside the area I said I’d be prepared to work so I am getting in two hours of brisk walking, meaning I can forget about any additional exercise on work days. However, I am determined not to let the work slip on my novel so the knitting’s got to be relegated to weekends. Such is life. Apparently paying the rent is more important than knitting – don’t ask me who makes up these rules.

I have made a start on the back of the cardigan which seems enormous after the sleeves and the tiny little fronts (they are very narrow because the wide scarf-style collar provides the rest of the coverage at the front of the cardigan). The scarf piece will take the most time because it is the part that has all the cable patterning on it.

Following the item I posted on Friday about the “I can do it” inspiration, I have currently got another of these quotes hammering around in my head: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you will always get what you’ve always had”. I think the idea is that you’ve got to break out of the cycle of repetition if you want to make advances. However, at this minute I am looking at this cardigan which, as I said before, is the third version I have made of it, and I think, yeah, I always want a version of this in my life, so doing what I’ve always done makes great sense. I hope that bit of positivity will help to banish the slightly negative thoughts that have been creeping over me this morning.

Hope your week is going well and you are making progress in your endeavours.

Quote of the Week – Us Two

24-06-19 Two
“Us Two” by A A Milne, from the collection “Now We Are Six”

Yes, it’s a Quote of the Week this Monday, rather than a Word of the Week. Why? Who knows? Just felt like it.

In fact, I was reciting this to myself as I carried out a reconnaissance mission on Saturday to find the office I will be working at for the next month. As I was walking along on my own, it might not seem the most apt poem to be thinking of, and this is emphasised by the fact that I don’t entirely agree with the sentiment that it isn’t much fun for one because an awful lot of things are very pleasant to do on your own. Of course, in the context of the poem it makes much more sense, because Pooh has been doing something he wasn’t keen on (looking for dragons, finding dragons, saying “Boo” to dragons, etc) and it is always better if you have an ally when you are doing something that worries you. That ally doesn’t have to be a real person, and even if they are real, they don’t have to be standing beside you in your moment of need. Most of us have people in our hearts who we are confident would cheer us on if they knew we were feeling trepidation, and knowing that is enough to enourage us.

So, if you come across dragons this Monday morning, think of your allies and then remember to shout “Boo! Silly old dragons!” and it will probably turn out that they are only geese.

3 questions, then I can do it

ICDI a

If you are female, and living in the twenty-first century, you can’t have avoided seeing this inspirational phrase. Indeed, you may have it in your planner, or on your wall, more than likely printed in a calligraphy-style font, quite possibly in minimal black on white, or in rose-gold with some marbling if you’ve gone for more bling. It is a quote which is designed to motivate us and to stop us cowering within our comfort zone and I can see the appeal. However for it to be truly relevant I believe that it needs to be preceded by three very important questions.

ICDI b

As a standalone phrase, “I can do it” is very nebulous, and in reality it may be preferable to interpret the words as meaning “I can do anything I put my mind to”. In order put our minds to anything, we first have to determine exactly what it is. If we fall into the trap of believing we can do anything at all, but don’t decide on specific things to actually do, then we will just sit on a sofa forever (which, if I am honest, is one of the few things about which I can honestly say “I can do it”).

ICDI c

It is entirely probable that each of us can achieve anything we truly set our minds to, but we won’t do things if we do not have sufficient desire to do them. If we are not entirely honest with ourselves we will be able to come up with endless perfectly believable reasons why things are not going to plan and we are not reaching our objectives, but we need to see past those and question whether we really want to do what we are working towards. I have found that self-knowledge is hugely important when it comes time to set goals. I have to understand myself and what I really want to achieve; what makes me happy, or sad, or angry; what I can live with and live without. With a good understanding of myself and my motivations, I can look at the ideas my mind spawns and judge them not simply as to whether they are ‘good’ or ‘bad’, but whether they are something I really want to do.

ICDI d

The “I can do it” quote is not all alone in the universe, many of us also know the one that goes along the lines of “Good enough is done” – it is often recommended as an antidote for perfectionism. This is sound advice if you struggle with completing things because you are judging the results by unfeasibly high standards. This one always rings a little hollow with me, perhaps because I belong to a generation raised with the idea of achieving the best we possibly can. I know that it is not good for my soul if I feel I am are consistently submitting work that falls short of my best. Hand-in-hand with this goes my attitude that there is no point expending my energy on things that I am not ever going to be particularly good at. Naturally, how well I need to do a thing depends on the level to which I want to pursue it; I am an average swimmer and that is fine, but my standards for the things I do professionally are much higher because I want to be proud of my achievements and not feel that I am simply coasting along doing a “good enough” job.

So, here’s my take on “I can do it”:

21-06-19 ICDI d

Word of the Week – Accommodate

06-05-19 WotW Accommodate
In a world obsessed with goals and achievements, we would be wise to learn to accommodate our limitations

There are a lot of things in the world that we can achieve if we put in the required amount and appropriate type of effort. Many of us can very probably accumulate money, live in relative luxury, find love, raise children to become valuable members of society, achieve power, pursue our dreams, travel, what have you.

Yet if we are to live happily, we must come to terms with the fact that we cannot achieve everything that we set our minds to, we cannot reach every goal that we set. Some things are beyond our abilities, some things are no more than fantasies and rightly so.

It would be wrong to see not achieving something as a failure if that thing cannot be achieved by our own actions, or if achieving it would require us to sacrifice something more dear to us. For example, I would love to stand on the moon or on Mars, but there is nothing I can do that will allow me to achieve that. Therefore, I acknowledge that it is a desire I harbour, but I accept it is not within my sphere of influence to bring it about.

My mum was a great one for comforting us when we failed to achieve something by saying “It just wasn’t meant to be.” Yes, we should try, and yes, when we fail we should often try, try again; but if it just isn’t meant to be we need to accommodate that fact and put our effort into something that we can influence and have better potential to achieve.

It is also worth noting that just because something is a fantasy, not achievable in this lifetime, it does not follow that the thing should be abandoned utterly. It makes me happy to dream of standing on the moon or Mars and always will, despite the fact I can’t do it anywhere but in my head. The pleasure of a thing is not necessarily confined to the achievement or ownership of it.


 

Word of the Week – Aspire

08-04-19 WotW Aspire

Wow, that’s an image to set us ablaze on a Monday morning!

It seems to me, looking at the human race as a single entity, that it is driven by aspiration now more than in its recent history. It isn’t so much that there is a greater desire for achievements, but that the achievements themselves are less practical, more nebulous, than, say, in my parents’ generation. Then, we might have aspired to retire to Margate; now we aspire to ‘travel’. In the first instance, there is a specific place that we would see ourselves living in; in the second we wish merely to be somewhere else. I am not sure that either way is right, or wrong, but I do think that they are different. I think that both could lead equally to great satisfaction, or great dissatisfaction.

The thing that made me think about aspirations was the list of activities on a local convenience store window. I read these initially as a list of aspirations, and it made me wonder what sort of person would aspire to such things? And if I judge these as falling short of the acceptable role of an aspiration, what does that say about me and my perception of how the world should be?

Less loftily, this simply made me smirk and I had to photograph it.

08-04-19 Aspiration
Reads, Eats, Drinks, Smokes – an aspiration list?

My list of four aspirations might be: Dreams, Writes, Knits, Walks. Limiting to four, what would yours be?


 

Word of the Week – Accomplish

01-04-19 Accomplish

Looking forwards as we start a new week and a new month, my chosen Word of the Week “Accomplish” is an exhortation to set goals and strive to achieve something. To set oneself a challenge, to determine a course. It is wise, in setting goals, to accept that we can still accomplish something even if we do not ultimately reach our target. Sometimes it is enough that we accomplish the understanding that a certain thing is not for us, we do not find it important enough within our life, we do not enjoy it as much as we thought we would, or even that this is simply not the time for us to get the best value from that particular activity.

As well as looking forward, we can apply this word to the month just past, using “accomplish” to celebrate what we have done.

I set myself the challenge for March 2019 to do some creative writing every single day and I am proud with myself for meeting this challenge. It took a slightly different direction from the one I originally envisaged, and in the final analysis I wrote for 25 days on the first draft of my novel, adding 16,730 words to it which averages out to 669 per day. That is amazing progress. Now, not all of those words were freshly-minted during the month because I took some pieces that I had written previously and imported them into my novel. That was part of the evolution of the novel which has become more solid and cohesive in my mind as I have been working on it daily. That being said, it is still a successful contribution given the original context of my challenge: “to work on the creative writing”, not to write a set number of new words in the time period.

I also worked on other pieces over 8 days, adding 16,870 words. Now this was definitely more a case of importing and typing up pieces written previously. However, it means that I now have most of my creative writing within the Scrivener software on my computer, making it much more accessible and seamless to work with.

The big thing to come out of this month for me is that I am loving writing, really engrossed with the story I am crafting, and I am going to make the effort to carry on writing every day even though March is now over.


Do you set yourself goals/challenges/targets? How do you feel if you achieve, or fail to achieve them?


 

Getting Cake Done

MRD Cake
Montana Red Dog Cake (all will be explained)

Recently I have been reading that lynchpin of the world of business and personal organisation: “Getting Things Done” by David Allen. I have said elsewhere that I am incredibly late getting to this particular party and I’m doing it now mainly to get it off my ‘must look into this someday’ list. David Allen himself promotes having such lists and so if nothing else comes of this read-through, I will have taken action on one point. I don’t think I will ever have enough enthusiasm to dive right into the process, which is slightly like the Marie Kondo approach in that you have to empty everything that you have any involvement with into massive in-boxes and then process it all so that no open loops are lurking in your head. I can only handle such systems in very small doses, but the way I look at it gradual improvement is better than no improvement at all.

To sustain me whilst I have been reading about, and even doing little bits of, organising my life and whilst I have also been working on my Gaudi cardigan, I have been baking things. It seems to me that one thing I can ‘get done’ very easily is a cake. Last weekend I made Bakewell Tart to my mum’s recipe for, I think, the first time in my life and it was very successful. Having reminded myself that I can actually make a decent pastry crust, I then proceeded to make a minced beef pie for tea one evening. Then today it is the turn of Montana Red Dog Cake.

To be absolutely honest with you, this cake does not exist. Well, the cake exists, but the name doesn’t. I just made it up this afternoon. The cake is just a coconut sponge baked in a loaf tin and topped with oodles of coconut buttercream*. However, when I cut the first slice I realised how much the buttercream looks like snow piled on a cabin roof and Montana Red Dog popped into my head.

“Montana Red Dog” is the title of one of my favourite episodes of “Alias Smith and Jones”, in which our heroes find themselves snowed-in at a cabin in the Montana mountains and pass the long winter days playing cards with the other guys who have been prospecting for gold with them for some months. When someone steals their gold, they set up a game of Montana Red Dog which apparently is a card game that only fools play because once you start losing you just lose more and more heavily; it is, in fact, a scam.

My cake isn’t a scam, though, it is a yummy treat made all the better by reminding me of a pleasurable hour of TV viewing.

Now, back to organising things. Or just reading, which is pretty much the same thing, surely?

Have a great weekend.


* Many thanks to my sister Alex for reminding me how lovely coconut cake is whilst we were swimming yesterday. I hope she will be equally grateful to me for reminding her of Montana Red Dog!


 

Exhilarate

18-03-19 Exhilarate

As of this week, I’m changing things up a bit on the blog, partly because it’s getting towards Spring, and I reckon we all need a bit of a change. Mainly, though, it’s just that I fancy doing a ‘word of the week’ instead of the ‘quote of the week’ that I was doing last year, and having had that thought I decided it would be good to start the week with a word.

So, here is the first Word of the Week –  exhilarate – because don’t we all need a bit of exhilaration on a Monday morning?

With Mondays allocated to a Word of the Week, I think Wednesdays will be my main knitting catch-up day and Fridays my general meanderings. If you’ve read my blog before you will probably know that I am very fluid with my intentions and I’d rather write a good post about something off-topic than a plodding post about something that fits the day’s specific category. I like to think that makes reading my blog a bit of an adventure.

I will commit to saying that this Wednesday’s post will be about knitting and will feature a finished object. Woo-hoo!