I think one of the most difficult adjustments to make as an adult is becoming comfortable with failure. As kids, failure is, for all practical purposes, not an option. Failure is held up as a spectre to be avoided at all costs. Mediocrity, of course, is not. A grade of “D-” is not failure, only a grade of “F” is failure. I’m still unclear about “F+”.
As an adult, however, failure is a constant companion. No one is going to laud your accomplishment of performing your job competently, or admire you for picking up your dirty clothes. Most jobs, most lives, are filled with the narrow avoidance of catastrophe. There are very few true successes. So few, in fact that it is not unusual to look back on the end of a year and not be able to name one. You can adjust your expectations downward and create successes. If you haven’t been fired in the last few years or if you have not given up seeking gainful employment within the last twelve months you might consider that a success, but by any objective measure you’re the one-eyed king and all your subjects are walking into the walls.
The thing about failure, though, is that it is incredibly liberating. Once failure is always an option the fear of failure disappears, but I worry that if failure is standard operating procedure we become mired in a situation where we made the weather and then (we) stand in the rain and say, “Shit! It’s rainin’!”
This week I’ve had several failures. Most of these have been medical failures, which I can’t technically write about. It is often said, “an expert is someone who has made all possible mistakes in a narrow field.” After seven years of practicing medicine you might think the rate of mistakes would decrease, but I postulate that it is impossible to become an expert in primary care because it does not satisfy the second requirement of the maxim. It also occurs to me that making the same mistake multiple times is a real loophole.
So, I’ll recount a failure in the home. All homeowners know that “the universe tends towards entropy.” If a particular part of your house is not worn down or broken it is only because it is currently engaged in the process of breaking. This week I found out that the shingles on our house are defective but there is no way to have them replaced under warranty. The reason they are defective is that these shingles were designed to degrade more quickly in a landfill. Logically, that means they would also degrade more quickly on your roof, but apparently that wasn’t taken into account during manufacturing of these shingles. Failure rears its ugly, misshapen head again. Sure enough, shortly after being put in to production the shingles began to degrade quickly on the roof, but for reasons that are unclear they weren’t actually recalled. Thus, we are stuck with degrading shingles but would have to pay for the cost of replacement unless we have a hail storm within the next three years.
If you work your way down slightly from the roof you might meet our bat habitat. Don’t ask me how I know this, but suffice to say that it involved a flashlight, a hazmat suit of my own design, and a thirty minute attic expedition where I discovered that the wall slats behind our chimney aren’t sealed and provide a nice area for bats to roost between the chimney and the wall. From here they can make excursions into the attic, and on a few occaisions some have become disoriented and have flown into the house instead.
The fix is not complicated, and I have a plan, but this is where we get to the disheartening part of the story, because if things weren’t bad enough it was the correction of a previous failure that resulted in the larger failure of bat infestation. Last winter we had an energy audit and the company that performed this audit noted that the insulation in the attic was all piled up against the attic wall rather than spread out over the floor of the attic. They dutifully replaced the insulation and added some additional insulation but the act of removing the insulation that was piled up against the attic wall resulted in exposure of these cracks.
Failure, it seems, not only permeates our very existence, but also lies in wait to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Addendum: A few days after this was posted I broke my nose playing basketball. A fitting capper to a horrible week.