The Cure for Failure Addiction

Day 3 of our digital book club reading through Steven Pressfield’s Turning Pro and it’s still inspiring a lot of thoughts. I feel like this book is encapsulating the last 3-4 years of my life (yeah, changing your life just won’t happen instantly), and so it’s hard to separate the the “amateur life” I lived for so long versus the “professional life” I’m almost fully into.

One of Pressfield’s main points in the book is that when we choose not to pursue our callings, to remain amateurs, if you will, we find a shadow career, a twisted version of what we should be doing with our lives. The shadow career is what we think we haveto do because “the best” is just not an option instead of what we need to do deep within our souls. When we start to recognize that we’ve turned away from our callings, we can either “turn pro” or we can cover the fear and unhappiness that come with remaining amateurs by developing addictions.

I’m going to leave the term “addiction” fairly broad, since Pressfield does as well. But we all know those who struggle with myriads of addictions and we’ve all struggled with them on some level. We’ve all been right on the brink of a breakthrough, only to have a distraction lead us away on a merry path of drama or numbing or excitement.

Whichever addiction path we choose, they all end up the same way, which is why Pressfield comments on page 26:

That’s why addicts are so interesting and so boring at the same time.

They’re interesting because they’re called to something — something new, something unique, something that we, watching, can’t wait to see them bring forth into manifestation.

At the same time, they’re boring because they never do the work.

This theme just doing the work keeps coming up in so many different ways, it’s been hard for me to ignore. I think the mentality of the amateur is to become convinced that there is some secret formula to success that people are keeping from you.

I listen to a lot of podcasts hosted by comedians, and every one of them has a story about some fresh-faced youngster asking them for advice about how they can have a career like the comedian has. And every one of them has said the same thing: Get on stage, a lot. Don’t quit. And in a few years, you’ll be sort of good and someone will notice you and you’ll get opportunities. Needless to say, every one of those youngsters walk away thinking they’ve been rebuffed, that they’ll never learn “the secret”.

But that’s just it. There really is no secret, you just have to do the work.

One of the most subtle addictions Pressfield talks about in the section our book club read today is an addiction to failure, because failure comes with the territory for anyone seeking to do amazing things with their lives. Since it’s so subtle, I think a good way to spot you may be addicted to it is that it no longer “sticks in your craw” when you fail. Sure, it’s inevitable at some point, but you don’t have to like it. Ever.

On page 37, Pressfield puts it this way:

When we’re addicted to failure, we enjoy it. Each time we fail, we are secretly relieved.

Its payoff is incapacity. When we fail, we are off the hook. We have given ourselves a Get Out of Jail Free card.

I’ve mentioned this in a previous post, but one of the best portrayals I’ve seen of a person failing and working their way back is Don Draper’s story arc in the last two seasons of Mad Men. This is kind of a quiet show that almost none of my friends are into (so you get to read about it here!), but it’s one of my favorite shows. And yes, if you’re wondering, a lot of Don’s failure comes from his addictions.

He’s essentially lost his job as a partner in a Madison Avenue advertising firm, but he’s still receiving a paycheck due to businessy/political reasons. This is where the rubber meets the road as far as failure addiction. What would you do if you received a paycheck but didn’t have to do any actual work?

Would you coast?

Is this your dream come true?

Or would it eat at your insides that you’re being prevented from doing the thing you do best, the thing you were created to do?

Whenever I get frustrated at where I am and where I’m not, this scene pops into my head. A despondent Don Draper is helping his friend Freddy Rumsen pitch ideas to advertising agencies and pass them off as his own. Draper can’t not do this, he is truly a pro.

But he’s frustrated at not being where he wants to be: back in his office thinking up great taglines and pictures to sell products to the American people. We can debate the morality of this job later, just know a man is being paid NOT to work, and it’s eating him up inside. And the way he can claw back to where he wants to be is the same way you and I accomplish anything we’re dreaming of accomplishing:

Do the Work.

(Did I set this scene up enough? Maybe I need to write a few more paragraphs haha)