The secrets of your failure.

I don’t give relationship advice. It’s not that I don’t care, or that it’s beneath me. It’s just that if you want to replicate my relationship history, all you have to do is take a choo choo train and cram it with hippos. Then crash the train down a hillside, and slaughter all the survivors with a chainsaw. Setting fire to the remains is optional.

I don’t give relationship advice because I’ve been demonstrably unable to get into and maintain a functional, healthy, happy relationship. I know there are celibate priests running marriage counselling sessions, but at least they’re following official guidelines. I’ve only got the contents of my head to pass around, and they’re clearly not useful in this setting. It’s true that I can talk to people about a zillion ways to do things wrong… but I can’t tell them how to do anything right. If I knew, I’d be out there doing it.

Yet people ask me questions on this theme relatively frequently, and when I explain why I can’t help them they are even more insistent that I can and should because “I can understand the problem.” And yes, maybe I can. I can understand all kinds of problems. But if I don’t have the knowledge and skills to solve them, what good does it do?

Meanwhile, in another corner of the interwebz, a young friend of mine has just successfully kicked her social anxiety in the teeth. She kicked it so hard it’s gonna stay kicked. Her original prospects weren’t good. She could easily have become a recluse in her parents’ house; but she didn’t. She set her eyes on a goal and fought like hell towards it, regardless of how scary and hopeless and just plain awful it all felt. She’s a “ten years overnight success story,” because she worked long and hard to get where she is and for the longest time it didn’t look like she was making much progress. From the outside, her progress looked very much like “crawl, crawl, crawl, crawl,walk, walk, runJUMP!” It’s beautiful to see.

She’s still working at various bits and bobs, but her head is firmly above the water now. Everything is becoming exponentially easier. She’s doing so good, and she’s feeling so great, and she’d like to turn back to the people she met when she wasn’t doing well at all and who are still suffering. She’d like to tell them that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. She’d like to tell them that the work is hard and often feels hopeless, but the more you push, the lighter the load gets. She’d like to give hope, if not practical advice – although she could give some of that, too, if only people were willing to listen. But what she’s finding is that they’re not.

The fact that she solved her problem is considered a sign that she never had it, or that she didn’t have it “bad enough.” She can’t possibly understand the problem because she’s overcome it. All of her experience is being discounted precisely because it worked.

All of this baffles me. I can’t imagine that humanity always functioned thusly. “Hi, fellow Paleolithic human! You appear to be grossly ineffectual at hunting, same as me! Please, would you be so kind as to share the secrets of your failure?” “Hey, it looks like your triangular wheel doesn’t work very well. My square one is useless, too! That jerk over there, with his round wheel…. he just doesn’t get it, d00d.” Seriously, there’s no way we got to where we are as a species by taking advice from turkeys. So what the hell happened, and why? How did we get to a place where we’d rather listen to other failures than imitate success?




2 thoughts on “The secrets of your failure.

  1. I like to listen to all aspects of the human condition. However, hearing failures — it’s nice to know I’m not alone in the struggle. A person who has a deep understanding of the problem is closer to a solution and has more wisdom about it than a person who doesn’t have a clue. Learning about what doesn’t work is just as valuable as what does. The secrets of one person’s success isn’t going to match exactly up with the next person anyway. The context and variables for their problem are all different: different personalities and history, different cultural context, different timing, etc, etc. I usually find it an honor that someone wants to share their troubles with me or that they are interested in mine. To me, it means that they see me as a safe place to land, and that they see their situation as even a little bit hopeful. They are not giving up yet and they are searching…


    • Yes to everything, particularly the connection aspect of talking to like-minded (or like-troubled) folks. I think a lot of people’s problems stem from the fact that they think they’re especially affected and beating themselves up for it, or trying to reinvent the wheel, or kicking themselves from having “normal” human reactions to a situation.

      The only bit I’m really not sure about is the “A person who has a deep understanding of the problem is closer to a solution and has more wisdom about it than a person who doesn’t have a clue.” For me, for this and all other subjects, if I had a solution I’d bloody well implement it. If I have a solution and I can’t/won’t implement it, that’d suggest that I have another layer of problems I need to be dealing with. But I can understand a gazillion ways to do things wrong without it proving that I know even a single way of doing them right.


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