“EVER TRIED? EVER FAILED? FAIL AGAIN. FAIL BETTER.” – Samuel Beckett
A huge part of my own learning, recovery and development as a man has been in the move over from the conditioned ‘I’m the victim of life’ thinking I developed in my university years.
At this time, I was being suffocated by resentment towards my father and elder brother, violent memories constantly replaying in my mind, and the sickness of my soul splurging out into deep, tangled addictions to alcohol and porn.
Part of my liberation from this torture was in letting this whole persona die, which happened many years later in a rehab, and that allowed my soul to become freed from the past and my identity to be remoulded in objective truth rather than subjective resentments that were built on pain.
Despite my inner transformation, there are a few gems I’ve held on to from my old life, and one among these is the title of this piece: “Ever tried? Ever failed? Fail again. Fail better.”
A Mentality Forged in Fire
The quote itself is by an Irish writer called Samuel Beckett who spearheaded the ‘existentialist absurdist’ movement that stated there is no real meaning in life and that we must soldier on regardless.
While this belief system is now completely counter to my own experience, it’s important to understand it because it helps in seeing the power of the lead quote of this piece.
This approach to life has been cast in the fires of utter anxiety in a meaningless world and is so powerful because it attacks the biggest block in any man’s life – the fear of failure.
Fear of Failure
You can spend all day analysing the complexities of your emotions, yet they always come back to the root cause of all fear – the fear of failure.
Think about it:
Afraid to ask out the cute girl you know from the gym? It may seem like you’re afraid of rejection, but what’s beneath that? It’s the fear of failure.
Afraid of a big public speaking engagement? What’s beneath the fear of being on display? Of being judged? It’s the fear of failure.
The list goes on and on…
Why the opening quote is so fundamental is that it gets to the very core of our insecurity as men and alters the way in which we think about fear.
‘Ever tried? Ever failed?’ is, of course, a rhetorical device – Of course, you’ve tried and failed! Who hasn’t?
The quote here lures us into the inevitability of failure and in doing so destroys the root of fear, which is always anxiety about a potential future outcome.
As the famous cliché goes: “Depression is being stuck in the past, anxiety is being stuck in the future,” with this in mind, the quote takes us to an acceptance of failure and then demands that we go even harder next time.
This approach to challenges is so powerful as it not only handles the aforementioned fear of failure (the true nature of fear), but also smashes apart the notion of perfectionism.
Perfectionism hasn’t got anything to do with being perfect, perfectionism is weakness, it is pedantry, it is death to creativity and poisonous in getting shit done.
Perfect – in the world of form – doesn’t even exist. It’s just a con that fear plays on you.
I remember in my lost years I used to have a habit of judging guys playing guitar in public, “they’re not as good as me,” I’d think to myself, or even say to others, “listen to his shitty songs and lame style.”
But would I get up and play? Hell no! My ‘music’ wasn’t ready yet, I needed to practice more; I needed to perfect it.
The reality is that the guy on stage had the balls to fail, he had the balls to grow and learn, while I sat on the sidelines judging, neurotic to the core.
My perfectionism and fear of failure had made me weak, not strong like I naively thought.
This scenario is very similar to what Teddy Roosevelt referred to as the ‘Arena’, the place where men go out and challenge the world, where they take action, where they let go of judging on the side-lines and have their face “marred by sweat and blood”.
This is the same place the opening quote is taking us.
You don’t have to say ‘fuck fear’, that may work for short-term situations, but fear will always return and pretending it’s not there will cause more harm than good.
Instead, accept it’s inevitability and get over its existence, then it can mould you by making you stronger, more experienced, battle-hardened and wise.
The more you try your best and embrace failure, the more you’ll see a world of potential growing around you, people will begin to trust you too as they can see that you have balls.
Yet deep down, you have the humility to not get ahead of yourself, knowing the power of failure – that can keep you evolving and growing, welcoming adversity and on a path of meaning, purpose and inner peace.