I'll admit, I'm terrified of failure. It's ranked fairly high in my top five list of fears. For me, it's an issue of identity more than anything else.
Early on, I learned that A was the opposite of F, that success was the opposite of failure and by extension, that successful people don't fail. It's made the prospect of starting new creative projects and challenging jobs stomach-churning. Looming over each decision I make are two questions: What if I fail? Does that make me, by definition, a failure?
Enter Aziz Ansari, creator/writer/director/star of the glorious Netflix series Master of None. Ansari is, by most human standards, wildly successful. He performs stand-up to a packed house at Carnegie Hall. He writes books, collects awards, hosts SNL a day after the election and kills it. He's even been a guest on Fresh Air with Terry Gross, twice (by my count).
And during his latest interview, he revealed why he strives to fail. There's that record scratch you probably saw coming, but hear me out. Ansari's defense of failure is the best I've heard.
He begins by telling Gross a story about spotting his hero, the great Chris Rock, performing at a small comedy club in New York City.
"I mean, I couldn't believe it. You know, I was — I memorized his stand-up specials. He was just my favorite thing. Like, I liked his work more than any TV show, movie — I mean, I just thought he was brilliant. And then he went on — I couldn't believe I was there in this small, you know, 80-seat comedy club watching him. And he had a pretty bad set. He kind of tanked. It was a bad set. And people after were like, yeah, he stunk. But for me, it was, like, the coolest thing to see 'cause I was like, wow, what an incredible art form."
To recap, Ansari saw his career hero bomb on stage and wasn't disappointed. Rather, he was inspired. Here's why:
"Any comedian when they're working on stuff, you hit little patches where a bit you're trying just doesn't work. Or maybe the idea is funny, but you haven't figured out how to execute it properly. And yeah, I'm sure I had, you know, many moments like that when I was working on the set, you know. What happens is you get to a point where you almost get mad at yourself when you do really well because you think - oh, that means I'm not taking enough risks. And if I do a set where I just completely tank, that means I really went for something and tried something difficult. If I'm just killing all the time, I'm just worried too much about having a good time and doing a good show in that moment. But you really are pushing yourself if you do something and it goes horrible."
And there you have it. Failure isn't the opposite of success. It's the secret to achieving it. Now go have a day full of risks and maybe even a few fails. In other words, push yourself.
(Images courtesy of Netflix. Inset photo credit: Ali Goldstein)