Embracing the Fear of Failure



My goal for 2016 was to collect rejections. That sounds crazy, I know. It's not that I wanted to fail - I wanted to stop being afraid to fail. So, after the first of the year, I began submitting my work to journals and contests and told myself that I would treat each rejection as tangible evidence of my effort. At the beginning of February, I submitted an essay to the Erma Bombeck Writing Competition about my mother's waffle iron. I touched on the story of the waffle iron in a short blog post some time ago but then expanded on the story and placed it in the greater context of my childhood in a longer essay that I hoped would be the opening essay of my book. As most of you know, the book never happened but the story of the waffle iron stuck with me and it seemed like the perfect story for this competition. So, I pulled it from the longer essay, pared it down by about 300 words and submitted it.

On Monday evening, I received a call from an unknown number and I ignored it. I haven't been answering calls from unknown numbers because it's either an election call or some recording telling me that I won a cruise.

On Tuesday morning, I received a call from an unknown number and ignored it again. This time, the person left a voice mail and I listen to it because even the robo calls have been leaving messages.

Later that morning, I received an email from someone connected to the Erma Bombeck Writing Competition asking to talk to me on the phone. It turns out that unknown number wasn't calling to convince me to vote or to tell me I won a cruise. There was a real person on the end of the line calling to tell me that my essay was the global first place winner in the human interest category of the Erma Bombeck Writing Competition. I was stunned and much less articulate than I normally am but I was so honored that words failed me.

Writers aren't supposed to need external validation. I tell myself this regularly. I remind myself to write because I love it, because I can't stop, because the stories pile up in my head and need somewhere to go. I tell myself that it doesn't matter if no one ever reads them, that the act of writing helps me make sense of my life and the world. All of that is true but have to say that it feels damn good when someone reads something you've written and tells you that it made them feel something.

You can see all the winners here and read The Waffle Ironhere and I'll be heading to Dayton on March 30th to accept the award and attend the Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop.

I've learned some valuable lessons from all of this:

  1. Try.
  2. Embrace the possibility of failure.
  3. Answer your phone even if it's an unknown number.

In the words of my mother, "...hang in there, work hard, have fun, and just be bold.”