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Open Features: Failed Dreams Are A Positive Thing

Failure can be good, says Claire. Embrace it.

As a British schoolgirl in the 1990s I used to enjoy a comedy called Red Dwarf. It was about a man, an android, a hologram and an evolved cat-person who lived on a space ship millions of years after the extinction of the human race. The hologram had a big blue H on his forehead and his name was Rimmer. He was absolutely obnoxious.

In one episode this band of misfits entered a parallel universe where they met the people they could have been if life had turned out differently. Rimmer's alternate self was a likable and dynamic hero.

Rimmer's mystified crewmates wanted to know why this version of him was so nice. He explained that he had learnt humility after being kept back a year at school. His sense of failure had given him character.

Failure isn't just character building, it can also be an opportunity to spring clean the psyche and gain fresh focus. I've been thinking about this as I approach my 31st birthday. I'm not exactly old but like it or not I'm not in my first flush of youth either.

When I was a schoolgirl I had all sorts of fiery creative ambitions. I was going to be an artist and a novelist, I was going to do great things. In my early twenties I also decided that I would be an academic and I studied for a PhD in history.

Nothing turned out the way I thought it would. As an artist and novelist I lacked both imagination and technical ability. I finished the PhD but I didn't have the right type of mind to be an academic historian.

It took several years to accept that I had failed in all three ambitions. I kept them simmering at the back of mind and returned to them whenever I was in the mood for creativity. All I got for my lack of acceptance was a sense of frustration as I saw my skills failing to match up to my dreams.

Over Christmas I finally realised that I wasn't cut out for novel writing. It was a relief to just forget about it. On a recent holiday when I had time to dabble with a bit of drawing I looked at my creation and recognised with a sense of peace that I had never really been all that good.

As for history, it was only this morning that I admitted to myself that doing further research will be very difficult during my working life. Historians need lots and lots of books and time to read them. That's a problem for people who have to earn a living and don't live near big libraries. I called myself a failed historian and said it with a smile.

The failure of so many youthful dreams might sound depressing but it isn't, not really. I feel decluttered. Now that my vision is not blocked by the things I can't do, I have more chance of seeing what is possible. I feel as if I have woken up in a meadow next to a river on a clear fresh spring morning.

Failure can be good. Embrace it.

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