In the last half of the championship game of my last soccer season, I asked my coach for a substitution. I said it was because my leg was acting up, but I worried I wouldn’t be able to deliver for my team, so I asked to come out. The game was tied and went into overtime. Even though I was one of the stronger offensive players, I blamed that niggling injury for slowing me down and stayed on the sidelines. Then overtime wound down with the score still tied. Though I could’ve subbed in and been one of the five to take part in the penalty shoot-out, I stayed out.
Rather than face the pressure of a final shot, I stayed on the sideline.
Rather than risk failing, I sat out.
My team lost.
In those misty final minutes as parents and players lingered on the field, another season come and gone, my teammates shared a moment. We had gotten so far together. We fell together. Yet, I felt removed from it all.
Instead of remembering the shot I took or how I handled the pressure, I remember being apart from it all.
I didn’t stay in the game.
I didn’t want to fail.
Throughout 2017, Kara and I maintained a Failure Thread. Each participant e-mailed when they believed they had created for themselves an opportunity to fail. From job openings and contest entries to trail marathons and artist residencies, we tried and failed at so many things. The rules for the thread, mostly unspoken, are simple: No editorializing with hopes and dreams; just send what you’ve done, and get on with the next thing.
Our definition of opportunity is loose. Sometimes we included moments that were part of our professional paths. Sometimes we didn’t. I included running because of the inconsistency I’ve faced over the years. Most required a submission of sorts, whether officially sanctioned in the case of contests and jobs, or an unofficial e-mail or message.
Some of these failures were capital-F Failures, scary opportunities with the potential to change the course of our year, or careers. Many more were run-of-the-mill opportunities, ones we weren’t particularly invested in but applied to for the sake of creating momentum for ourselves, for having done something, with no real plan for following up or executing. I did not work to distinguish these types of opportunities, preferring instead for high-volume failure over quality failure.
In that, I only submitted one picture book to a small publisher. I only launched one Kickstarter. And, most damningly, I didn’t submit any other sorts of scripts or stories. What I did a lot of was submitting to Tongal’s open calls for ideas and pitches.
In reflecting back on this list, I wonder if I leaned too much on the sense of accomplishment I got from submissions that only took 45-90 minutes of effort. Now that a year has passed, would more concentrated efforts have produced better results?
I don’t love all the shots I took this year. I don’t love the amount of shots I took this year. But when I consider what resulted from a few of those shots – an animated digital series for Thomas & Friends, and a book – I see the power of staying in the game.
I know may not always take the best shot, that I might pass up the shots I think someone else can handle better… but I need to keep taking them.