What is failure? What is success?
I’ve been mulling over these questions for the past few weeks for the umpteenth time. If one thing ‘fails’ but leads to a ‘success’, does it still count as a failure? And if not, then is it a success or something else entirely? How do we measure failure and success? Can we measure them?
I struggle with being sociable. I’m very much one of those people who fake a smile in social situations but, on the inside, I am trying to rip out of my own body and run like hell to find the first secluded area where I don’t have to be around people. Since that moment I decided I wanted to actually try and live my life, I’ve made a conscious effort to be more sociable. I keep in touch with people online, then arrange coffee dates whenever I feel brave and we’re physically able to meet up.
It turns out this is a pretty good way of networking too. A friend who I met through my work with Fearlessly invited me to follow a page on Facebook – Dancing Bear Books. A new, independent publishing company based in Newcastle. At the time, I didn’t think much of the invite. A writer following a publishing company – that’s what writers did, wasn’t it?
The Short Story
Back in May, I saw a post on my newsfeed that Dancing Bear Books was searching for fairy tale retellings written by diverse authors. The deadline was two months away, the word count only 7,000 words. I was an African-Indian Brit living with mental illness and a (then) fairly open schedule. I could do that.
I began to write, merging the story of Scheherazade and One Thousand and One Nights with my love for Angelology and the short stories my Dad told me when I was growing up. I sent it to three trusted readers, then ran it through an editor friend who ripped it to shreds. Once it was sewn back together, I hit ‘submit’. Even though I had muted Dancing Bear Books from my social media feed at the time (my logic: if I can’t see them posting, I can’t assume they hated it), I checked my e-mail every few hours like a woman possessed.
Enter all those failure vs. success thoughts.
My trusted readers were all people I knew and loved: a memoir writer, a bookworm, and my nineteen-year-old niece. Suddenly, I didn’t trust them. Would they really tell me the truth? They knew me. They cared for me. They wouldn’t want to dash my hopes. And my editor? My editor who, in all shouty capitals, told me that I needed to write more. That this couldn’t possibly be the end of the story for these characters. She, again, was a friend of mine. Someone who I had never actually used as an editor before.
I’d made a mistake. I wasn’t a writer. Not a good one anyway. Dancing Bear Books were going to laugh in my face.
A little after 2am on July 5th, after hours of laughing and drinking, gossiping and gaming, I checked my e-mail.
Our submissions are over… The number of tales… We will forever be in debt to every author…
This was it. The big rejection.
We are thrilled to inform you that we adored your short story and we’d love to give it a home in our ‘Little Book of Fairy Tales’!
We are thrilled to inform you that we adored your short story…
No, that can’t be real.
Every single person in the room read and re-read that e-mail to me that night, even my twelve-year-old nephew.
In August, once my edits had been approved and all the paperwork was over and done with, I made my social media announcement.
I’m being published!
Suddenly the failure story I had imagined in my head was turning into a success story… Or not. Hello voice laughing at me. The book will never sell. You’re going to get really bad reviews. Get ready, you’re in for a fall. You’re never going to get your trilogy published now, no matter how many years you spend writing it.
But then those congratulations messages poured in:
OMG!!!!! Hooray! Knew it would happen! Love you, girl!
Super proud of you and I loved this story!
Can’t wait to read something else from you. You’re so talented! Keep writing, always. You have such a gift to share with the world. You’re one of the good ones in this industry.
So crazy happy for you, you strong, beautiful author, you!
This is so amazing!!!!! Congratulations. Of course, I’ll need to get my copy…
AWWWWWESOME!!! Congrats friend! Can’t wait to get your book in my hands!
Congratulations, you deserve it lady!
Remember those failure vs. success thoughts? They came back full force.
- What is failure?
- What is success?
- How do you measure it
- Can you measure it?
This is a success story, isn’t it? So why am I talking about failure so much?
To some, my inability to socialise freely is a failure, but it led to me making the decision to actively socialise. Success.
To some, all those words I’ve written over the years that were rejected, thrown in the bin or shut away in a box beneath the bed, never to see the light of day, is a failure. But they taught me to write something worth publishing. Success.
To some, my inability to fit into the African or Indian communities is a failure. But I’ve joined a community filled with people who don’t fit into a box. I’ve found my tribe. Success.
To some, my mental illness is a failure. But if I wasn’t mentally ill, I wouldn’t have started writing for Fearlessly. Success.
Maybe this entire time, in every moment I speak about success, I’m also telling you about my failures. Maybe what you perceive as failure is actually just a bud of success waiting to bloom. Maybe there’s no such thing as failure.
What is failure? What is success?
I think I’ll let you decide that for yourself.