Goalodicy or Failure Immunity?

Is the willingness to fail faster and more often the surest path to success?

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My Facebook Page Failure

A marketing challenge built into having a Patreon page like I Hate Happiness is finding ways to let people know about it.

One way I tried was an I Hate Happiness Facebook page.

I posted my signature post, which explains why I hate happiness in three short cartoons, and began inviting friends to “like” my page. I got some nice comments and “likes” from people on their  initial visit, so I continued to post every couple of days.

Then the visits trickled off. Hey, I’ve been there. You get a notification that someone has invited you to like a page, then, occasionally, if you spend enough time coming back on your own, the Facebook algorithm will send you another alert. Otherwise: cue crickets sound effect.

After a few weeks, ten out of ten alerts I received were reminders from Facebook to post more content and to boost my posts by buying ads.

Since my “goal” was to encourage people to “follow” my I Hate Happiness Patreon page to receive free updates (where potential patronage was  only a click away), while Facebook’s goal was to get me to post more and  buy ads to keep people scrolling on Facebook, I recognized my failure  and moved on.

Taking the Antidote

In response to the initial invitation, one friend commented about a book her psychotherapist had recommended: Oliver Burkeman’s The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking.

Two chapters from the book, “Goal Crazy: When Trying to Control the Future Doesn’t Work” and “The Museum of Failure: The Case for Embracing Your Errors” reminded me that I haven’t written about failure.

So, while I failed to control the future by having people click from my Facebook page to my Patreon page, I’m embracing my error  by writing this post and trying out a Failure Immunization Tool.

Identity Crisis

For as long as I can remember, my adult relatives and parents’ friends would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up. In my earliest years, I’d shrug and say “I don’t know.” They’d laugh and say  “well, you still have plenty of time to figure that out.”

During high school, they’d ask “are you going to college?” then “where are you going to college?”

During college, they’d ask “what’s your major?”

After I graduated, they’d ask “what do you do for a living?”

My takeaway was that if you didn’t have a carved-in-stone goal you weren’t a fully-formed person. And if you did have a  carved-in-stone goal, the only way you could fail was not measuring up.

Goalodicy: The Unintended Consequences of Goal Pursuit

A new word I discovered in The Antidote was coined by business professor D. Christopher Kayes. It’s not in the dictionary yet, but it’s entry might look like this:

goalodicy |gōlˈädəsē|

noun (pl. goalodicies)

1. the obsessive pursuit of goals to the point of self-destruction

2. the effort to maintain belief in the face of contradictory evidence

Example: If you suffer from goalodicy then you will find yourself so obsessed by the future goal that you ignore the practical  realities of your situation.

Origin early 21st century from theodicy, the effort to maintain belief in a benevolent deity, despite the prevalence of evil in the world.

When I was 12, my goalodicy was to be the youngest  novelist on the New York Times Bestseller list. When I was 18, I read an article in Writer’s Digest that said a screenplay rejection slip was  worth ten times what a book rejection slip was worth. Then, when I  started to receive recognition in college for my plays, I focused on writing plays that could be adapted as films, and when I heard how much money small scale musicals like The Fantasticks earned in royalties over time, I joined a musical theater workshop.

I failed to take into account that Peter Benchley was barely scraping by before he sold Jaws, and the film rights that had fueled the paperback success had been picked up on a whim. For every Prelude to a Kiss that moved from Off Broadway to the screen, there were countless shows that didn’t (not to mention countless plays that never made it Off Broadway). And when it came to small-scale musicals that raked in revenue over the years like The Fantasticks there was…well, The Fantasticks.

The Under-Reporting of Failure

To be fair, it was far easier for me to find stories about people who had succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. Would we know that Vincent Van Gogh sold only one painting in his lifetime, to his  brother, if his work didn’t sell for millions today? Would we know that J.K. Rowling was as poor as a person could be in the UK without being homeless if she hadn’t become one of its wealthiest citizens?

Do the majority of painters who never sell a work become world famous after their deaths? Do the majority of poor people in the  UK become billionaires? What percentage do?

Depression

When my early novels failed to reach the bestseller list,  and my first plays failed to be picked up as films, and my small-scale musicals failed to arouse interest, maybe because the small-scale The Fantasticks had closed and Disney’s lavish The Lion King was selling out, I began to fear that I was in the Van Gogh class of  genius (who would go unrecognized during my lifetime) instead of the  J.K. Rowling rags to riches kind.

And like Van Gogh, I discovered that I had all the earmarks of clinical depression.

On an episode of Dan Harris’s Ten Percent Happier podcast,  psychology professor Barbara Frederickson said that one view of sadness and depression is that it helps us disengage from goals that we’re not making any progress on. When we have a goal, and we’re really not getting anywhere with it, being sad about it can help us detach from that goal and then maybe in another emotional state we’ll find a  different goal.

But how can I avoid falling into one case of goalodicy after another?

Growing a Growth Mindset

According to Stanford Psychologist Carol Dweck, I followed  the predictable path from goalodicy to depression because I had a “fixed mindset.”  I was born with a certain set of innate abilities. To measure these, I  was given an IQ (intelligence quotient) test to determine where I ranked against every other member of my age group. I remember putting plastic squares in square holes but not when I did it. Maybe first grade? Second  grade? The test was used to determine my educational track in the public school system.

I had a couple problems with my fixed mindset. The first was that when I failed it was because I lacked the talent to succeed. The second: the fixed mindset has been completely discredited by the discovery of neuroplasticity, which is how my brain now works, and has  all along.

With my new and improved growth mindset, failing indicates when I’ve reached the current limit of my abilities or my current understanding of how my actions will play out in the world. And if I pay attention, instead of pointing out why I’m a loser, failing points  out where I need to learn or change.

Failure Immunity

To explore a well-being habit for embracing failure, I looked to the “Failure Immunity” chapter of Designing Your Life by Dave Evans and Bill Burnett who say that keeping track of what I try and how I fail “is a great way to succeed sooner (in the big, important  things) by failing more often (at the small, low-exposure learning  experiences).”

When Trying to Control the Future Doesn’t Work

I begin by writing down what I expected/anticipated/wanted to happen…

I wanted people to click from my Facebook I Hate Happiness page and “follow” my Patreon page to receive free updates (where potential patronage was only a click away)

…and what actually happened…

After a few weeks, ten out of ten alerts I received  were reminders from Facebook to post more content and to boost my posts by buying ads.

The Flavors of Failure

Next I investigate the flavor of the failure.

Screw-Ups are simple errors about things that I normally get right, so I don’t really need to learn anything from them.

Weaknesses are failures that happen because of  mistakes that I make over and over. I’ve worked at correcting them  already, and have improved as far as I think I’m going to.

Growth Opportunities are the failures that didn’t  have to happen, or at least don’t have to happen the next time. The  cause of these failures are identifiable, and a fix is available. I want  to direct my attention here, rather than getting distracted by the low  return on spending too much time on the other failure types.

Asking the Right Question

Screw-Ups: The best response here is to acknowledge  I screwed up, apologize as needed, and move on. If my screw-up occurred  because a colleague screwed-up, I should find a tactful,  non-threatening way to share the raw information in a reassuring way.  What’s a skillful way to acknowledge the screw-up?

Weaknesses: Some failures are just part of my makeup, and my best strategy is to find a way to avoid running into the same situation again and again. If someone else’s weakness impacts mine,  my best strategy is to set appropriate boundaries. What boundaries might I set to lessen the chance that this will happen again?

Growth Opportunities: What is there to learn here?  What went wrong (the critical failure factor)? What could be done differently next time (the critical success factor)?

Embracing My Facebook Page Failure

I could acknowledge I screwed-up in selecting an ad supported content provider to promote a patron supported content provider.

I could acknowledge the weakness of choosing a medium with competing interests and focus on avoiding conflicts of interest in the future.

I could acknowledge the growth opportunity of spotting the critical failure factor: (competing interests) and try something different next time (seeking out contexts in which interests align).

Try the Failure Immunization Tool

Is the willingness to fail faster and more often the surest path to success?

If it is, this tool should help.

Failure Immunization Tool 

If you fail your way forward to a surer path, please share it in the comments. Let’s succeed together!

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Author: Bruce Cantwell

Writer, journalist and long-time mindfulness practitioner.