Since so many people feel free to throw around a blanket statement like “failure makes you stronger,” I’m going to throw my own blanket out there for those who think that’s a colossal load of horseshit.
Failure may make some people stronger. Or maybe it makes them more determined. Or angry enough to attack their problem and crush it.
Failure also destroys dreams, costs people their life savings, demoralizes them, causes them to fall into deep depressions that never lift, makes them simply give up. No, it’s not a case of blame the victim for their response to the situation. It is the situation that brings on the emotions that break a person.
There have been many people who have gotten back up after failures and become heroes, and I admire those people. But there are many more people who “failed” and lost their motivation, their way, even their will to live. Those people are not one iota less than any other person who has ever walked the face of the earth. They deserve our empathy and our help and our support.
Not one single person in the world has the exact personality and strength as another. We are all snowflakes. The way that we respond to all the stones life throws at us is a combination of nurture and circumstance. The cruelest thing someone ever said to me was a friend (it’s always a friend) who, when I was very down (I have chronic untreated depression because I can’t afford the healthcare I need) said, “You want to hear about a real problem? My first son was stillborn.”
I knew about that, she told me about it earlier in our friendship, and it broke my heart that her baby didn’t live, that she is still so obviously tormented by it after more than twenty years and four living, extraordinary sons. Pregnancy, the deaths of infants, stillbirths, and infertility affect me in a different way than “normal” people because I’m infertile. I cried for my friend.
I have seen her through so many problems, and I don’t consider a stillbirth a “problem.” I consider it a tragedy. I’ve seen her through problems large and small. I’ve seen many people through problems large and small. I’ve never said, “You want to hear about a real problem? I got pregnant once, when I was 20, had a miscarriage, and had to have a hysterectomy when I was 32.”
Every single person deals with tragedies and problems differently. We’re beaten with the “tragedy/failure/whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” myth until we feel like failures if our failures don’t make us stronger. My tragedy didn’t make me stronger. Am I a failure? My marriage failed. I don’t feel that made me stronger. Smarter, maybe, wary, cynical, suspicious, cautious, guarded, reliant on my intuition, mistrustful of my heart. But mostly it made me feel like I hurt my stepdaughter by not bearing up under the abuse for four more years, until she turned 18, and then I could have somehow bowed out gracefully.
That’s the mindset evoked for some of us by “failure makes you stronger.”
If it doesn’t make you stronger either, you’re not weak. You, like me, lack the ability to rebound from deep personal tragedy or disappointment in a way that inspires others.
It’s not my damn job to be an inspiration.
We’re not heroes in the conventional sense. We’re heroes because we’re alive. Like my friend, who lived through a tragedy and kept going.
We need to stop celebrating the myth of strength through failure and start celebrating the fact that we got up today and took care of our families and/or went to work or put in another job application or planted a garden or adopted a pet or saw another human being through the fallout of a failure. Failing doesn’t have to mean you lose your dreams. It would be a lot more productive and humane if we all saw ourselves as part of a support system and helped each other regain our strength after a failure or a loss.