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  • Writer's pictureBenita Garvin


Updated: Apr 9, 2022

Failure or the concept of failure may arguably be the concept that’s behind most of our decisions. Inherent in that word is the idea that failing is bad. Shameful. So awful it’s a miracle if you can ever recover!!

One question. Where the fuck did this concept originate? Let’s look it up!

failure (n.) 1640s, failer, "a failing, deficiency," also "act of failing," from Anglo-French failer, Old French falir "be lacking; not succeed" (see fail (v.)). The verb in Anglo-French used as a noun; ending altered 17c. in English to conform with words in -ure. Meaning "thing or person considered as a failure" is from 1837.

But it dates back further all the way to the 1200’s. "Be unsuccessful in accomplishing a purpose;" also "cease to exist or to function, come to an end;" early 13c. as "fail in expectation or performance," from Old French falir "be lacking, miss, not succeed; run out, come to an end; err, make a mistake; be dying; let down, disappoint" (11c., Modern French faillir), from Vulgar Latin *fallire, from Latin fallere "to trip, cause to fall;" figuratively "to deceive, trick, dupe, cheat, elude; fail, be lacking or defective." De Vaan traces this to a PIE root meaning "to stumble" (source also of Sanskrit skhalate "to stumble, fail;" Middle Persian škarwidan "to stumble, stagger;" Greek sphallein "to bring or throw down," sphallomai "to fall;" Armenian sxalem "to stumble, fail"). If so, the Latin sense is a metaphorical shift from "stumble" to "deceive."

It's the last one that really got me! DECEIVE.

If I write a story and it’s a piece of shit and therefore I’ve deceived people?!

It brings to mind an incident from early EARLY in my career. I had a disastrous play reading after I first moved to NYC. It was so awful that I came home and cried (probably one of a handful of times I’ve ever cried over my failed expectations). Somebody who had been very instrumental and supportive, simply stopped talking to him. He took this “failure” personally. Personally, for him! I disappointed him, I guess, and it ruined the friendship! I’ve never had an experience like it before or since.

The entire point of this post it BANISH the word (apologies to Elizabeth and her wonderful book) “failure” or give it a new definition. I CONSTANTLY say to my USC film students. ‘You only learn from mistakes.’ Hardly a unique concept but one that bears repeating repeatedly!!

STEP OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE! Do something that scares you OFTEN. That’s how shit will stop scaring you.

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