The magical math of success and failure

“The math is magical: you can pile up lots of failures and still keep rolling, but you only need one juicy success to build a career.

The killer is the category called ‘neither.’ If you spend your days avoiding failure by doing not much worth criticizing, you’ll never have a shot at success. Avoiding the thing that’s easy to survive keeps you from encountering the very thing you’re after.

And yet we market and work and connect and create as if just one failure might be the end of us.”

–Seth Godin

This morning, I remembered this quote from Godin as I read my email. Among the stacks of school-related information, spam-nonsense, and advertisements for stores I rarely visit, there lurked an email of interest. A volunteer position was open at a literary journal, and I can apply online.

I want to connect with writers.

I adore literature and writing.

I’m qualified, as best as I can tell.

So why am I hesitant to apply?

Fear of failure.

It’s the same fear that’s kept me from submitting query letters or manuscripts. The same fear that keeps me from hitting “publish” on some blog posts. The same fear that kept me from writing for years, starving my hunger for storytelling until the gnawing hunger in my heart was too great, and I had to write or die.

The fear is still there.

Years ago, in an off-topic conversation, my nutritionist commented that a guy who didn’t ask a girl out was 100% likely not to go out with her. (You can reverse the genders, if you wish.) In a sense, he’s rejecting her: in not taking the risk of rejection, he’s implying that she isn’t worth it. She’s not valuable to him. Because, he argued, if you truly value something, you consider the benefits of having it (whatever “it” is) worth the risk of failing to obtain it.  

So why am I hesitating over applying for a volunteer job? What’s the worst thing that can happen? They say no.

It’s not like the powers-that-be at this journal are going to trash me on Facebook or diss me on Twitter or even send me a nasty email rejection. Even if they did, I’ve survived worse things.

The math is magical: I only need one “yes” to counterbalance every other “no.” The equation balances.

Bring on the application.


7 thoughts on “The magical math of success and failure

  1. I went through the same equation when I was applying for a judgeship. I knew the only guaranteed result was if I never bothered applying in the first place.

    Do you think you might want to write up a guest post on the process and how you got through it at some point? I’d be thrilled to run it at my place!


    1. Oh, another guest post would be fun! I’ll try. I’m trying to become more consistent at blogging (scribblepreach’s blog posts on it have kicked my rear!) and I hope to be able to have you and some others guests post on here, too.


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