Finding Failure in 2019
For the past week, I've been living on the road. It's been nearly seven days of driving up and down Interstate 5, blasting political podcasts, eating dried mango by the bag and absorbing views of the Oregon and California coasts from my forever dust-sprinkled windows. Sweats have become my everyday wear, and I've largely mastered the art of brushing my teeth with a water bottle without hitting the highway rumble strips (check off that box).
I joked to friends a couple weeks ago that the older I get, the more my desire to find a New Years Eve party wanes. Instead, I look for ways to ring in the new year in a way that feels fitting to me — usually, with an adventure. Two years ago, I started this tradition by backpacking nearly 30 miles of California's Coastal Trail with my best friend. Instead of picking out pretty dresses, we packed our warmest down jackets, Alpaca socks and hand warmers. In lieu of finding a party, we trudged up soul-sucking hills with heavy packs and shaky legs. We spent our last days of 2016 camping near the ocean, drinking watery, camp stove coffee and making homes of giant redwood trunks. We emerged, a couple days later, with mud-caked boots, flimsy legs and clear minds. It's exactly what we needed before starting a new year. After all, backpacking, for me, has always been like pressing reset on my life and my mind. It forces me to slow my pace, disconnect from my email and quiet my mind. It forces me to reassess what's really important and what's really not.
This year, I continued the tradition. Instead of backpacking, though, I spent two days driving, solo, to LA from my home in Portland, Ore., to visit my boyfriend and his family. We then made our way back north together, tent camping, car camping and AirBNBing along the way. Of course, our plans did veer off course a bit. The partial government shutdown—and our own partial planning (yay spontaneity!)—foiled original plans to backpack stretches of Yosemite and Big Sur. Still, it was a fitting and beautiful precursor to the New Year. I'm also pretty sure we moved up several relationship levels after spending that much time together (yes, we sometimes talk about our relationship in video game terms).
And though I didn't do any serious backpacking, I did spend a lot of time solo in my car, thinking about the new year ahead and what I want it to look like. One thing I constantly struggle with—and want to improve—is my love of instant gratification. As a former news reporter, I feel like I have a built-in sense of urgency and an extreme shortage of patience. I use to work for a daily, which meant I had many, many tight deadlines. I grew accustomed to writing stories and seeing them in print the very next day. I wrote quickly, I made edits quickly, I got feedback quickly. Now, I'm a full-time content creator and part-time freelance writer. Instead of seeing my name in print at least half a dozen times a week (often more), I see my name in print once every few months, if I'm lucky. Of course, this makes sense. My stories these days are a bit more complex. They're personal. They take longer to write. Plus, I now have to pitch not just my stories to editors, but myself as a writer. I'm both a salesperson and a journalist, or at least that's how it feels at times.
Now, don't get me wrong. I love freelance writing. I also love the hustle and the grind. There are also many perks to freelancing, like having more flexibility with hours and content. However, it's fair to say there's nothing instantly gratifying about being a writer. At least not at the stage of the writing journey I'm in. I want to be an author someday, and there's nothing instantly gratifying about that dream either. In a world where gratification can be grasped so easily with a simple app download or a picture post, I'll admit it's hard to work toward something that might not be achieved for months or years even. There are no promotions or raises along the way to my writing goals. Just a lot of solo hill climbing, with few people patting me on the back during the process.
Of course, I know these dreams are worth it. I know my goals will at some point be tangible, and I'm excited to forge ahead in 2019. I'm ready to embrace failure, smile at it and keep going. But it's a process that's both grueling and confusing at times.
I met a gentleman this past week on my trip through northern California that shared a tip with me. I told him about my struggles with failure and my perfectionist mindset. He told me about a book he read about failure. In it, it told the story of Thomas Edison's process of inventing the incandescent light bulb. Edison, the book said, performed thousands of experiments before finally getting it right. Of course, inventing the light bulb was the goal, but he didn't just cheer with his final win. He cheered at every failure as well—because he knew each failed attempt was getting him one step closer to getting it right.
I'm hoping to enter 2019 with this same mindset—to see every failure not as a step away from what I want, but just one more step forward. In fact, my real goal is just to fail more overall in 2019. If I do, that means I'm reaching for things that stretch me as a writer and as a person. It means I'm going after every opportunity with the same balls-to-the-wall mentality I had when I was a daily reporter. I plan to channel my sense of urgency when I'm chasing down and creating new opportunities. Maybe I'll get some wins, too.