You only live it twice


Worry and fear form an endlessly twisting path that may or may not have failure at its end. If you find yourself on this path, ask yourself: How bad is it, really?

Rock stars who
whinge about heroin withdrawal are crybabies. So opines Keith Richards of the
Rolling Stones in his autobiography, Life.* Drawing on his own experience,
Richards argues that cold turkey compares favourably with,
say, having one’s leg blown off in a World War One trench**. Mr Richards’
metaphor is rather a blunt and tactless one. But there is a fundamental truth to it that
reverberates far beyond the rehab clinic. Things are usually nowhere near as
bad as they might seem.

“…you’ve lived it twice”

All worry is about fear of one kind or another. All fear is about failure of one kind or another.

If you’re prone to worry, worry doesn’t feel like an option. But that doesn’t stop worry from being a total waste of your life.

Here are two great sentences nailing the worthlessness of worry:

First, my friend Jay Kuhns says:

“Worry is
not only overrated… it is completely useless.”

Second, in a recent chinwag on Marc Maron’s consistently storming WTF podcast, actress Kristen Wiig shares some very wise words:

“If you worry about something and it happens, then you’ve
lived it twice.”

It is tough to opt out of worry. But it is worth trying.

Eating, pooping, failing

Failure – the root and possible end point of worry – must be the most feared “F” word in our language.
It’s high time we talked about failure.

My friend Laurie Ruettimann is doing just that. Last month she launched an excellent Twitter chat, entitled #FailChat. Each Monday, Laurie leads discussions exploring facets of failure: why failures occur; what we can learn from them; and how future failures might be avoided.

Laurie explains why it’s time for us grown-ups to celebrate failure:

“Data shows that most of us fail in the same ten ways over and over again, and we learn how to manage failure – or not – from our families and the important people in our lives. And psychologists regularly demonstrate that failure isn’t a big deal. It’s our individual reaction to life’s unforeseen circumstances – resilience, learned helplessness, self-determination, ruinous sentimentality – that determines whether or not we succeed. Basically, failure is just part a boring part of life. You know, much like eating and pooping. And, for the record, we mostly celebrate eating and pooping when a baby does it.”

Perhaps because failure is such a verboten topic, #FailChat is already
drawing a wealth of witty and wise responses. It seems the people are
just ready to talk failure.

The loss is part of the game

Just because you worry about failure, it doesn’t mean that failure will befall you. But neither will worry protect you from failure. Failure will happen to us all at some point.

In his ‘daily game’ tweet from Thursday 3 November 2016, Ice-T explains why you cannot outrun failure your whole life:

“Bonus Game: You have to learn how to take a loss.. Process it.. Learn from it. And get BACK in the game. You have to Master this.”

Ice-T expands on this theory further in his MIT lecture on branding***. He contends that Murphy’s Law is overly optimistic. Ice’s law is that “everything will go wrong.”

It’s refreshing to hear the inevitability of failure being talked about in this way. You can’t outrun failure your whole life. You just have to be able to cope when it happens:

“You just have to have that fortitude to say ‘Hey, everybody takes a loss, and I just can’t let that end what I’m doing.’ The key is knowing that the loss is part of the game. If you think that you’re not going to take a loss, you’re sadly mistaken. […] It’s not just the win. You will take those losses. It’s all about recovery time.”

Did it involve facial tattoos?

So the worst
happens. You fail. How bad are we really talking?

Moby is a wise
and articulate gent, and one who knows a lot about failure. His memoir Porcelain is probably my book of the year for 2016.

ends in failure. His vegan punk album Animal Rights having somehow failed to set the charts alight, the book concludes with a down-on-his-luck Moby recording a new album – entitled Play – in a ‘what-the-hell-no-one’s-listening-anyway’ spirit:

“I assumed my career as a musician was over, but maybe Play would be my obscure swan song before I disappeared into the bowels of New England to teach community college and die on a futon.”

Play was ultimately anything but a failure. But it was created with a confidence born from failure. In a great talk entitled Creativity and the Freedom to Fail, Moby – like Laurie –  argues that failure should not be feared, but celebrated:

“One nice thing about failure is that when you go through it, at the end you can sort of take stock and say ‘Oh, OK. That was a failure. And it wasn’t that bad.’ My criteria for the severity of failure is: Did it involve facial tattoos? Did it involve viruses? Did it involve unwanted children? Or loss of limbs? And unless it involves any of those four things, you’re probably OK.”

Worry and fear form an endlessly twisting path that may or may not have failure at its end. Whatever the end result, you’ll get there whether or not you worry.

And if you can’t switch off worry and failure does befall you, you only live it twice.


* To be entirely
clear, I do not approve of or endorse such behaviours as Mr Richards describes
here. I also do not approve of or endorse Mr Richards’ proud recounting in Life
of how he would routinely expect his long-suffering road crew to carry his
contraband across borders on his behalf. All this said, Life is all the same an
excellent and highly recommended book. Just don’t necessarily use it as a
manual for your own life!

** I was in two minds about including these paraphrased words from Mr Richards in a post published in November. No disrespect is intended to any current or former member of the armed forces. I urge everyone to donate to the Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal.

*** I kind of get the feeling I’m the only person who ever has watched or ever will watch all of this video. But if you’re OK with the rum language and don’t mind the blatantly-shot-on-someone’s-mobile qualities of the visuals and audio, it is rich with wisdom. As he puts it in the video, Ice-T “drops jewels” here.

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