mnmlist: Failure Is Always an Option
I’ve been thinking about marketing a lot lately. Good marketing is what will compel readers to read what I’m writing. When that happens I will maximize my contribution to the world and make a bit of dough along the way. That’s my working definition of success.
The question I’ve been asking myself is, “How should I market myself? What market demand might I fill?”
In answering these questions, I’ve surveyed successful contemporary spiritual and self-help writers (the market I see myself occupying). I looked at their brands and asked how their approaches might be incorporated into my marketing and brand strategy. Here are some examples:
- Eckhart Tolle. Author of “The Power of Now,” he provides his readers a glimpse of reality from an enlightened perspective. I like what Tolle says, but I can’t claim the enlightened qualification he does. Unlike the finely-tuned Tolle, the exhaust note of truth I make sputters more than purrs.
- Deepak Chopra. Author of such books as “Perfect Health” and “7 Spiritual Laws of Success,” this doctor provides a fusion of Vedic wisdom and pop science, applied to things like emotional and physical health. My highest degree is a BA in English, so I’m of dubious academic authority. And Chopra draws from the deep well of his Indian cultural wisdom. I’m from the suburbs, where wisdom flows in inverse proportion to the amount of time spent in front of the TV (i.e. all the time). My emulation of Chopra would surely flop.
- Pema Chodron. Author of “When Things Fall Apart,” she delivers a Buddhist nun’s perspective to everyday problems. In contrast to the ascetic nun, I live a pretty decadent life. I’m sexually active, overuse Netflix and love Trader Joe’s tater tots bathed in salt. Her angle is a no-go too.
- Steven Covey. The author of “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” provides clear cut instruction on how to maximize effectiveness in your personal and professional life—both domains for which I have a very tenuous hold on.
- Anthony Robbins. Author of “Unlimited Power” and “Awaken the Giant Within,” he provides concise ways to navigate beyond your limitations. While I have some reference points on how to navigate my own life, I try to avoid presenting them as gospel. I will probably never share Robbins’ pulpit (or pew) of maximum potential.
- Tim Ferriss. Author of the bestselling “4 Hour Work Week” and “4 Hour Body.” I haven’t read either book, but I think I get the gist: get rich and take control of your health using less time and energy. In contrast to Ferriss, I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time getting further away from my riches. And while I enjoy decent health, I think it’s primarily a genetic and environmental thing. I exercise because my folks did. I’m tall and thin because my dad is. I can tell you what I do to stay healthy, but I can’t tell you what you should do. You’re not me.
- David Deida. He’s the author of such titles as “The Way of the Superior Man.” As the name suggests, Deida tells men (and women apparently in other books) how they can better inhabit their innate sexual power. I don’t think of myself as a pushover or impotent, but to purport myself as an expert in masculine energy is a stretch (just ask my girlfriend).
There are many other writers, each of whom have their distinct brand, message and qualification—Marianne Williamson, Gary Zukav, Dan Millman, Ken Wilbur, Jack Kornfield, Dalai Lama et al. All have much wisdom to offer their readers—that’s why they’re successful; they tap into needs many of us have. But none of their particular approaches—be it from a scientific or religious or prescriptive or post-enlightenment clarity—resonate with where I’m at.
I want to help people overcome their limitations as I have, I want to promote inner and outer peace which I have in large measure, but if I were to pick a specific channel by which that is achieved, I’m not sure what would it be. I don’t know how my thoughts would be best packaged and absorbed.
Then it occurred to me. There is something I can speak about with authority. It’s something that affects most if not all people. It’s something few people are talking about, or if they do it’s always in the context of overcoming it, not mastering it.
Failure. I can become the failure expert (though it’s unlikely this strategy will succeed).
I know failure. I’ve failed to be the boy that other kids respected or picked for their teams. I’ve failed to be the guy girls adored. I’ve failed at being popular at school. I’ve failed to get rich and/or famous. I’ve failed at being efficient or effective. I’ve failed at fulfilling my spiritual goals.
I should have a PhD in failure. I’d call myself Dr. Failgood.
And yet in spite of all of these failures (or perhaps because of them), I’m okay. Not only am I okay, I’m pretty fantastic a fair amount of the time. I live in relative peace. I sleep well at night. My relationships are healthy and open (not in a sexual way, mind you). No, I’m not rich nor am I blissed out all the time. I don’t have 12-pack abs. I don’t have the ultimate answer, but I think I have some pretty good limited ones.
As I see it, the reason most of us buy spiritual and self-help books is to learn how to become better people, i.e. how to succeed. We are certain we can become something more that who we are presently. We know that underneath the pedestrian concerns that occupy most of our waking hours lurk spiritual, physical, economic giants. All we need to do, in Tony Robbins-ese, is awaken that giant and life will begin.
But I’ve realized something most of us are unwilling to accept: that we will never succeed in being the people we want to become.
Success is a scam. So long as we hold the idea that we will become something we are not, there will always be a rift between who we are and who we want to be. That rift is the source of all conflict and unhappiness. Rather than spending our hours comparing ourselves against our better, successful selves, why not accept and appreciate the failures we are?
Face it, we’re never going to live up to our or others expectations—for health, wealth, spirituality, relationships, compassion, etc. Who cares? Where do these expectations come from anyway? Aren’t most of them some nonsense we learned from our parents or TV—things they learned from their parents and TV and so forth? It’s far easier to dissolve those expectations than it is to meet them.
It should also be said that failure is not a fixed thing, nor is success. All I’m saying is we might consider grounding ourselves in who we are, even if, or especially if, who we are is far off who we think we should be. From this grounded place, we can be cool with whatever is happening right now. We won’t need to change a thing to be happy.
Of course I may have to rethink this brand strategy. Most of us don’t want to admit that we’re failures. We want to hold onto the idea that one day we’ll reach our potentials. We don’t want to hear that this is it. That things don’t get better than this, right now.
So perhaps I’ll rebrand myself as a relationship or time management expert—both worthy messages. Until then, I urge you to sink into your utter failure. Relish it. You have nothing to become. You have nothing to prove.