A few thoughts on falling short: On my contribution to A Catalogue of Failure



  1. Lack of success.

1.1    An unsuccessful person or thing.

  1. The neglect or omission of expected or required action.

2.1    A lack or deficiency of a desirable quality.

  1.  The action or state of not functioning.

When I saw Alice Furse’s call for submissions for a little handmade publication to be called A Catalogue of Failure, it was like an invitation with my name on it in bold print. Ah, failure, I know it well. Don’t we all? But, the consternation… what failure out of a life-time of well-earned examples would I turn to for the exercise of 500 words?

And so, the question that confronted me was: what does failure really mean and how can it be distinguished from regret? Surely we regret our failures. And so often we blame ourselves for falling short. But in truth success and failure are relative and complicated. Likewise, whether we respond to either, in the end, with regret or relief, or a measure of both, depends on so many circumstances.

Ultimately much of what happens in this life is beyond our control. Shit happens. And as the parable about the Chinese farmer reminds us: “Who is to say what is bad or good?” For example, nine years of success in a job I loved ended in spectacular failure. Was it my fault? No and yes. Was it a blessing (in so much as I believe in blessings) in disguise? Yes, and on a lonely bad day, no. Failure and success is sometimes very difficult to qualify.

So, I thought, I could write about my professional failure, my parental shortcomings, the opportunities I passed up, the endless years I spent trying to conform to a gendered existence that never fit, or the price paid in personal isolation in my decision to alter that existence. Should I go on? I’m certain the majority of people would, like me, have a harder time choosing from a multitude of failures (perceived or otherwise), than zeroing in on a couple of successes looking back over their lives.

At the eleventh hour, having agonized over the selection of a failure to write about (lest my inability to pull together a submission be yet another failure in itself), I turned, once again, to my recent experience in central Australia and my inability to hike the Larapinta Trail as I had hoped. Failure? Perhaps. Or a success that I managed to walk two and a half days out of eleven given how sick I was? It was, as I’ve said, a truly amazing opportunity to be out there, but at heart I can’t help harbouring a sense of dreaming big and falling short.

Which is, I suppose, what makes failure such a human experience. And those small success such a simple joy.

If you have ever known failure (come on, be honest now) and would like to find a little comfort and company in the stories, poems and experiences of others, copies of this limited edition handcrafted zine can be ordered here for a very modest price. Treat yourself or some miserable failure you know. Order a handful!

Author: roughghosts

Literary blog of Joseph Schreiber. Writer. Reader. Editor. Photographer.

11 thoughts on “A few thoughts on falling short: On my contribution to A Catalogue of Failure”

  1. This brings to mind a TED talk I watched recently on learning to face rejection and consider it an opportunity (which makes it sound very annoying, but it was actually a charming and funny look at the phenomenon – which is perhaps too everyday to be called a ‘phenomenon’). Recasting these situations can be so useful. I’m glad you were able to place the work and put the ‘failure’ to work for you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I found that the more I considered responding to the call for submissions the more obscure the distinction between success and failure is. Some day I will have to write about the truly positive aspects of my trip to Australia which were many!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve just seen The Darkest Hour, a film with Gary Oldman playing Churchill. At the end there’s this quotation. ‘Success isn’t final, failure isn’t fatal: it’s the courage to continue that counts.’ Rang some bells for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Preparing a submission for this zine project caused me to think a lot about the nature of success and failure—I think I could write about it on length. There are measurable failures which can be turned into learning experiences, but I suspect most of us are haunted by our personal perceived failures (the roads not chosen, the circumstances beyond our control) that others may not ever even know of. Those are the ones that are more difficult to move on from because they really only exist in our self-critical imaginations.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Congratulations! I love this blog post so I am sure I would love your piece in the zine. But it’s not on Etsy any more–do you think there will be any more?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve sent a note to the creator to find out if there will be another run. The response was really good I think. If not I have an extra copy I was going to send to a friend who went and ordered her own. I’d be happy to pass that on to you. I will DM you on Twitter when I find out, okay?


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