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  • Ian McClellan

Week 48: I will fail.

Updated: Apr 30


I wonder in millions of years, what historians will make of the current human race.


By historians, I have no real idea what I mean. Maybe it will be humans like us. Maybe it will be a race of super intelligent giant cockroaches. Maybe it will be robot aliens from another universe. Maybe they won’t even be bothered, or maybe Planet Earth has already exploded into a gazillion pieces of molten rock and toxic gases. All these things seem possible these days.


But if they were interested, I wonder what they would think about the snippets of social media data that can be salvaged? Like worn cave paintings in the desert, I wonder what they will try to piece together, and how curious they would find it.


Would they believe we are a race of near perfect beings, who were constantly hashtag blessed, sipping colourful drinks and looking at eternal sunsets? Would they be confused that we are in awe of nature, yet also spent a lot of our time trying to destroy it?


Would the relics of smartphones be displayed in museums as the essential tools of our race like we do for bronze arrowheads and flint tools? Would they perceive our greatest actions to solve the ills of our world came through switching profile pictures and holding cardboard signs? Would they study in depth our great philanthropic movements, only to find they each lasted about 14 days.


I hope not, because then they would then never be able to study the beauty of failure.


It’s something we don’t do much in publicly these days. We don’t fail. We succeed. Perhaps we are sometimes victims. We are definitely outraged. But abject or dejected failure, seems to have fallen out of style.


But it is so important, especially when we are doing something important. Emotional toil, is part of important forward motion. But it is rarely without failure.


I feel like this week’s entry to Project Planetwise, has taken too long to come about.


It is something I’ve been thinking about for a while, and especially when I receive so many kind comments in response to our little project.


But.


But not facing an elephant in the room, and not facing the thing that makes me flinch every time we are praised, would not be true to those who give me such lovely words each week. Those who take the time to read what I write.


So, this week is for everyone who has apologised to me for that one thing they throw in the landfill and feel guilty about, despite what else they achieve in their lives. Those who linger on the few things that they cannot fit into a day, and not the many that they can fit and that should be proud of. You deserve honesty.


I have failed.


I have not saved the world. I have not become a champion of a movement of small changes. My average engagements on a post is between ten and twenty. My average ‘likes’ on social media is single digit.


On top of this, some of the things I have tried to do each week have spectacularly failed.


The bee meadow from week 27 is a complete mess. The lavender is barely alive, the wildflowers have been choked by nettles and dandelions. One week, I tried to fix it and spent hours pulling up hundreds of massive dandelions. I gave up when I realised that dandelions and weeds might be what was supposed to be growing there anyway, and will have to start again in the Spring and figure out what to do.


My attempts at growing tomatoes has been a nightmare. I managed to grow seven tomatoes this year, and they were all tiny and green. The wheelbarrow blew into the greenhouse in a storm and smashed it up so badly that the whole thing is cold and draughty. There is a thick layer of moss on the glass all down one side, that I haven’t had the time to clean and now it frankly might as well be built of stone, the amount of sunlight that gets in.


This week was going to be about a wildlife cam that we have bought and installed in the garden. A motion sensitive device, with night-vision, that I was hoping to capture wildlife in the garden.


Maybe a nice reel of Big Hedgerton snuffling round at night. Perhaps even a fox or a badger. During the day, I hoped it would capture rare birds on the feeder, and I hoped that Leo and I would watch excitedly together.

But this has been a failure too. I’ve moved it around about twenty times, messed with the settings for hours to stop it going off when a branch moves in the breeze, yet not going off when a bird lands about a foot away from it. So far it has captured a neighbour’s cat, and a few blackbirds at a distance no more interesting than looking out of the window.


Leo is being very patient with daddy’s camera but I can also tell he is not exactly amazed, although to be fair he did quite like seeing the cat eyes light up in the night vision.


I have failed.


Not admitting these failures, is also something that I could get away with very easily. I am a few weeks from reaching the end of the beginning. The end of 52 weeks of changes. I could leave this thought that has been nagging me for another month or so, and no-one would ever know. Claim triumph. Decide what to do next.


But that misses the point of making small and achievable changes in our lives, because we can’t do everything.


If you are trying to hold down a job, run a family, be a good friend, parent, sibling, partner, or any of the other roles we hold in life, then I believe fitting all the masses of other expectations placed on our shoulders and into our days is impossible.


Unless we begin to realise we can’t do everything, and until we realise that failure is normal and real, experienced by everyone and more common than success - frankly all of our mental health will continue to suffer.


Perhaps the other dangerous thing about not making failure an acceptable part of our lives, is that it can cause us to give up on even the good things we do.


It is only so long, that we can stand to being the person who is simply trying to get through, spinning plates that are on fire and trying not to feel guilty at the bombardment of things we absolutely should be doing. We should do less of this, be that, do more of the other.


And maybe that is part of the problem – it is not even asking anymore. We have created the rule that only disruption can truly gain attention, which means more drama and hyperbole, more telling us what we absolutely should be doing, and less asking if we are able to help.


There is a point where we are ground down and we give up. The goal becomes so detached from reality that we end up going backwards, not forwards.


So this week, I wanted to shine a light on failure. Reveal that when the filter is removed, and just off-screen from the perfectly composed picture, there is failure everywhere.


It is the success or the perception of perfection that is the illusion.


Maybe we also shouldn’t want to do everything, because then we wouldn’t realise how beautiful it is to fail, and how useful failure can be.


We teach our children this all the time. We tell them that it is OK to stumble, and that practice is the way to get better. But practice also has inherent failure, because it means we miss the target a lot before we hit it. That we start small, and build up our skills. And that we keep going, and keep trying to reduce the number of times we miss. But even then, we are going to hit it every time.


When the internet tells us to do something, it loses context. It assumes we are already good at whatever it is telling us to do. Then we feel guilty because we are not, and we feel we are not good enough. But being good at something takes practice, and practice includes the gift of failure.


It forgets that everything in life also means making choices, between an exponentially increasing number of expectations.


Failing does not mean going backwards. It does not make us bad people, if our intention was not to fail. And if we learn to shrug a bit more when we get that feeling of failure, it means that we do not become paralysed or fearful to find other ways of moving forwards, or being proud of what we can do.


If it is important to us, if it triggers an emotion, we can put it on the list and try to get to it at some point.


Failure is forward momentum, by another word it is learning.

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