The Gift No One Wants

“You have failed me for the last time,” Count Dooku intoned to his apprentice, Asajj Ventriss, in a season 3 episode of The Clone Wars animated series. It’s okay if you don’t know who they are or even how to pronounce their names. I brought them up because watching that episode and hearing those words reminded me of what I’ve felt lately.

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Asajj Ventriss

star-wars-the-clone-wars-count-dooku-wallpaper

Count Dooku

I don’t know about you, but sometimes, I feel like a total failure. “Oh boo hoo,” I hear you scoffing. “Cry me a river. You’re probably just talking about a hangnail.” I realize you don’t know me. After all, I’m writing under a pen name. So I totally get the skepticism. Suffice it to say that failed relationships, financial mishaps, failing grades in school, layoffs, years of failing health, books published but out of print in less than two years, failed expectations—these are the warp and weft of my existence. Even my failure to correctly identify the monarch butterfly in first grade (and thus win a prize) still haunts me. Cry you a river? I could.

Monarch

The monarch butterfly. Yes, I know it now. A fat lot of good that does me.

markus-zusak-c-bron1eb101As they say, misery loves company. I like to hear stories of people who have been in the mire. So when my friend Sharon sent me this link to Markus Zusak’s TED Talk on failure, I listened to it several times. (I had hoped to be able to embed the video here, but couldn’t.) Who’s he? An author from Australia who wrote the critically acclaimed young adult novels The Book Thief and I Am the Messenger. I Am the Messenger was named a Printz Honor book in 2006 with The Book Thief winning that coveted spot in 2007. The Book Thief, which has been translated into at least 40 languages, recently was adapted for the big screen.

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At first I scoffed at the idea of Markus Zusak talking about failure. After all, he not only is as a cute as a button, four of his books had been published by the time he was 28 years old. And The Book Thief has been on the bestseller list not one year but years. But Zusak allows us to walk a mile in his shoes when he discusses the “gift” of failure. I hope you’ll take the time to listen to his talk. (You can get to it by clicking on the link in the paragraph with his photo.) Maybe like me, you needed to hear this today, to know you’re not alone, to know there is hope even after failure. Failure may be a gift no one wants, but it has a unique way of teaching us what success cannot: how to get back up after being knocked down.

Book covers from Goodreads. Asajj Ventriss image from ign.com. Count Dooku from simplywallpaper.net. Markus Zusak photo from the Internet.

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28 thoughts on “The Gift No One Wants

    • Andra, I’m glad it was helpful. I’m sorry if a failure made it so. But I’m glad Markus could inspire you. Don’t forget you’re the woman who conquered the Natchez Trace!

  1. Linda, thanks for bringing this topic up. I’ve been wanting to write something about it on my own blog, but so far have failed to do so. I must be on the verge of a massive success as I’ve failed so much over the last few years! As we know that failure is the mother of success (traditional Chinese quote). So what jumped out from Zusak’s Ted talk was his reaction to failure. It made him more determined.Throwing the discus in the rain is a nice illustration of that determination. My own understanding of how life works is this – it doesn’t matter what happens to us, it only matters what we do in response.
    If, when faced by hardship and rejection we give up and give in, then so be it. We’ve failed. But if we determine to move forward, to learn, to challenge, to question, to get better and believe in ourself, then there is no such thing as failure. Failure becomes the mother of success.
    Right now, I’m so pregnant with failure, I must be about to give birth to triplets. (That’ll teach me for fucking about so much.) I hope you’re enjoying your failure in your own unique way.

    • John, I hear you!! I was thinking that myself: “I must be about to give birth to triplets.” Because I’ve experienced it in every area of my life. I also love that image of Zusak and his dad out in the rain while Zusak throws the discus. Having read his books, I’m glad he persisted past failure. His persistence inspired me. 😀

  2. Very well put. That’s definitely a positive way to look at failure too. I think most people (especially those stepping into artistic endeavors) get bombarded by failures. Rejection letters, failed interviews, and so many other things. That second one is a killer and a reason why I’m happy to push for full-time authordom. All we can do is learn from the events. Just wish it was easier to catch a break from time to time.

    • Thank you! It is hard to fail. If I hadn’t failed utterly with a novel I wrote nine years ago, I wouldn’t have written the one I’m working on now. 😀

  3. Thanks to you, I listened to listened to this last weekend. I meant to email you to let you know how much I enjoyed it.
    Just like death, failure is universal, something we will all experience at some point in our life. I think I need to listen to this video at least once a month. 🙂 Thanks for a great post! xo

  4. Oh, man, what a talk. I love what he said about having to find his way around the failures, and therefore ending up with a book that meant everything to him. Wow. Thank you for sharing this.

    • So glad to do so. I also was struck by that line: taking the time to craft a book that meant everything to him. My hat is off to his perseverance! May we all have that.

  5. Often we brand ourselves as failures because we don’t measure up to other people’s standards. We measure ourselves against other people’s expectations.

  6. Added to my watch later list. 🙂 I’ll let you know more when I’ve watched it.

    In the meantime, I’m there with you in a big way. Sometimes, ducks just won’t line up, no matter how often you entice them (or try to force them as the case may be). Something interesting I heard from a parenting expert many years ago: Someone asked him what was the most important thing to teach your children. After thinking for a while, he answered, “How to fail.” After the audience finally got over their shock and started shouting at him, he explained that kids need to learn how to pick themselves up after failure more than any other skill they could possibly learn. Without that one skill, they’d never make any headway in life or even mature properly. With it, even the most challenged would eventually have something to show for their efforts. 🙂

    • What he said was very wise. It reminds me of something my dad told me when I was trying to learn my way around Chicago: don’t be afraid to get lost. And I was lost a couple of times. But that helped me learn to find my way. I guess failure is like that.

  7. I love the concept that within each failure is a little success. I’ve been starting over and over again with the story I’m currently working on, each time throwing most of it and completely changing it because most of it is just not working – which got really disheartening for a while. But I’ve noticed that there’s a little kernel in the middle of it all that is staying constant and slowly growing with each new iteration. Exactly as Markus says, within each failure is a little success from which we can cobble together a book.

    I’m so glad to have listened to that talk, it’s given me renewed confidence that I’m doing at least something right – as far as failure goes at least! As the saying goes, what matters about failure is how you pick yourself up.

    • I’m glad it was encouraging. Every time he talks, I feel the same way. I love the fact that he tries to encourage other authors, instead of sitting around resting on his laurels.

      It’s great that you found the kernel that stays with you. I think your story is trying to tell you something. 🙂

  8. I need to listen to the talk! I’ve used my own multiple experiences of failure to create a character who showed a lot of early promise and then failed spectacularly in a place where there are no second chances. While the manuscript has so far gathered “no-answer-means-no” responses and rejections, I’m looking into alternative ways of getting his story out, in the same way that he looks for an alternative when his Plan A is no longer viable. In any case, all of it’s fodder for the story.

  9. Pingback: failure, the friend | Ellar Out Loud

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