On Failure, Success, and the Seemingly Important But Actually Insignificant Opinions of Others

Don’t be afraid to fail. It doesn’t matter if you do because nothing does. But if you succeed, it’s everything. 

At 12:56 a.m. on October 17, 2020, I sat alone on my dorm’s balcony, ate mac and cheese and slightly-less-than soberly wrote the above words in the Notes app on my iPhone.

I don’t like failure. In fact, I actively try to avoid failure. I procrastinate on assignments I’m scared to do bad on. I don’t try new things I’m afraid I won’t be good at. I stick with what I know will lead me to success, both because failure feels so shitty and because disappointment is devastating. Even worse than failing itself is others witnessing my failure. 

If I get a bad grade, my classmates will ask about it, and my parents will have to see it. If I try something I’m not good at, everyone around me will bear witness, suffering second-hand embarrassment, which is all too real – trust me, I’ve more than once watched “Scott’s Tots” – and making me even more ashamed and unwilling to try anything new ever again. 

But why am I so scared to make a fool out of myself trying? Why do I, in essence, lock myself away like Spongebob with his penny, chip and used napkin friends, confining myself to the safe choice? 

In my unprofessional opinion, I think it goes all the way back to elementary school. Every year since kindergarten, I’ve gotten near perfect grades. A’s, with the occasional and disheartening A-minus. Never B’s. Except for in fifth grade. In fifth grade, I got a few B’s  – one in vocabulary and a few in math, if my memory serves me right. Why was fifth grade different? 

Fifth grade was what I jokingly refer to as my “mid-elementary school crisis.” I got my hair professionally cut for the first time in my life and yet still pulled it back in a ponytail every day. I forgot homework assignments in favor of playing outside with my friends. I wore tom-boy clothes to school, usually an old, oversized t-shirt and basketball shorts. My style was, at its core, Adam Sandler chic. 

I simply didn’t care. I didn’t straighten my hair because that was the style, a damaging trend I later succumbed to in middle school. I dressed in what made me comfortable, not what other girls wore – I  shortly thereafter spent way too much money on Forever 21 crop tops. And I didn’t like Justin Bieber because half the planet and Usher told me I should; recently, I made a playlist for car rides with my friends, and I don’t even know or like half of the songs on it. I paid little mind to what others thought and was much happier for it. 

When I came to this realization about a year ago, I slowly started to change, coming out of my pineapple under the sea and into the open water. I went to the beach all summer, shamelessly rocking my Target bathing suits and had a fantastic time. I tried new clubs, like The Biweekly Show on campus, which I’d always been scared of trying simply because I was afraid I’d be bad at comedy and end up like Joaquin Phoenix's Joker. Okay, maybe that’s a stretch, but you get the point. 

I am happier now because I care less. And I do still care, probably still too much. But I’m learning not to. Because failure is necessary for true success, and if I shy away from failure, scared I will disappoint or make others uncomfortable, I will never truly succeed; I will sit inside forever. 

So, breathing in the fresh air of the outdoors, connected more closely to the truth than I am in the absence of tequila, I wrote down that note as a reminder. As my hopes and aspirations grow, bigger failures are coming. And if I can face them, so are bigger successes. 

For Biweekly, the cast members write desk jokes each week, similar to Weekend Update on "SNL." Our host reads the jokes out loud at rehearsal, and we pick four we want to air for the show. The sound of people groaning at your jokes or saying they “don’t get it” is disheartening. The sound of silence is deafening. For each show this season, I’ve written around five to eight jokes. And each show this season, two to three of them have made it to air. Hearing the majority of my jokes fail is undeniably tough, but my cast members’ and the audience’s laughter at the few that make it on air is everything.