November 11, 2011

Looking for Failure

"Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go." -T.S. Eliot

Now Eliot, it should be said, may not be the best person from whom to take life advice. He wrote The Wasteland, after all, perhaps the most dense miasma of words to ever earn the title of poetry. But, manic depressive though he almost certainly was, Eliot was on to something here.

Without the risk of failure, there will never be success. But more than that, failure itself is instructive. When the mere thought of doing something scares you, it's probably worth a shot.

I remember standing at the starting line for my first half-marathon, contemplating the lunacy of running 13.1 miles, wondering if I might just die. I did not; although I did manage to lacerate my feet in several places, and pace myself so foolishly as to walk most of the last mile. But I also finished in 1:39 - not bad for a trail race. The confidence that race gave me helped push me from "guy who runs a bit and does other fitness related stuff in order to be thin" to "runner". I've since run a 50-miler, and am currently looking forward to running farther, faster, and more.

Taking over management duties for my coffee bar was even more horrifying. Fail at a race, and you fail no one else. But fail at a job, and the customers, employer, and coworkers all go down with you. At least a little bit. That's the fear, anyway, that the weight of responsibility will crush you, that orders won't happen, and that business will vanish.

Still, that fear was reason to accept - beyond the obvious financial incentive. I did not know if I could do it - and on some level, I still don't. Yet, others seem largely pleased. Sales are up, costs are down, people are happy. No one, as best I can tell, wants me dead. I'm getting comfortable in the bigger shoes, which is reason, in and of itself, to be afraid. Comfort, too easily, can turn to complacency. And that's when the hammer drops.

Of course, if you keep running, it'll probably land behind you. And that's my plan. Stay just a little afraid, go looking for failure, and see where I end up.

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