The most important thing I did this past year was learn how to fail. A brief and probably incomplete list of things I failed at in 2014:
- I don’t even remember if I made New Year’s resolutions so if I did I’m sure I failed those. Certainly any that had to do with consistent running.
- My Goodreads 2014 book challenge: I read 39 out of my intended 52 books, although in my defence I was reading plenty of academic texts and articles for my thesis.
- Update my blog: I think I was aiming for twice a month, which I nearly averaged (22 posts counting this one), but most of those posts came at the start of the year, and there were a few months I didn’t write at all.
- Getting a job in Galway (I did do some freelancing at least)
- NaNoWriMo: I did it for 2 years in college, took a year off last year because I was doing my MA, and planned to complete it again this year. I got 20k-some words in and that was the end.
I’m sure there are more 2014 failures that I’m forgetting, but what’s important to me is that I’m okay with it. I mean, I’m not okay with it—I obviously want to do better in 2015—but I don’t regret trying anything just because I wasn’t able to complete it or be the best at it.
I’ve always been a perfectionist, and I still am, but my fear of failing doesn’t outweigh my fear of trying. When I look at previous years, my regrets come not from failure itself (I learned a long time ago that it’s okay not to be perfect), but from realising that I could have pushed myself further and didn’t, stopping at the level at which I knew I could succeed. A big one that comes to mind was studying abroad in Spain: it’s still one of the best things I’ve ever done, but looking back I wonder if, had I been willing to step further outside of my comfort zone and go into a course that wasn’t all Americans or spend more time conversing with native speakers, would I have gotten even more out of it?
When I compare that to another Spain-related topic from this year—writing my thesis on Francoist oppression of the Basque Country’s publishing industry—I see the difference. I could have written on an easier, more comfortable topic, relating to journalism or even Castilian Spain, and not had to deal with the fact that there was so little information on the subject and that much of that information had to be translated, by me, from Spanish (though luckily not from Basque). I didn’t fail my thesis, of course, but I chose a topic that I knew would give me a harder time and probably not a better grade, because I was willing to take the risk.
I’ve also learned to look at my “failures” positively. I would never have considered myself a “glass half-empty” type of person, but there was a time when I would’ve looked at some of my “failures” above and thought “I failed my reading goal” or “I failed NaNoWriMo” instead of “I read 39 books this year” or “I wrote 22,000 words in under a month.” Far from feeling discouraged about trying again, I’m motivated to push myself to do better next year.
I don’t think I’ll ever be accused of playing it safe by anyone other than myself, but I’m ready to do more without knowing what the future holds. For example, in the past five years I’ve lived in four countries on two continents, but each time I’ve moved has been for school, where there’s a set plan and a fairly predictable outcome. When I go back to the United States in the next few months I’m immediately planning a move across the country—but this time I don’t really have a plan. And I feel good about that.