I’m afraid of failure, so I knitted an ugly scarf

13 Feb 2024

Life can get quite complicated - and sometimes, you need help from the world's greatest philosophers to figure it out. In her blog, Jara Majerus looks at life through the philosophical monocle, employing the help of some of history's brightest thinkers. This week, Jara is grappling with the anxiety that comes with failure – and explains how knitting can help.

Do you remember the scarf I mentioned in the last column? The one I was knitting by my parents’ fireplace? Well, I finished it. It is red and yellow, relatively short and to say that it is aesthetically pleasing would be an outright lie. My boyfriend called it ‘funny-looking.’ I think that says it all: I kind of failed.

In my teenage years, I established the idea that I should only do things I am good at. And seeing that only a few people can be good at something they do for the first time, I decided to not try any new things at all.

I never joined the volleyball team, I never went to a pottery class, and I never took singing lessons. I really wanted to, but I was too afraid of sucking at it. I didn’t want to be bad at anything and given that one cannot be good at everything, I decided to do nothing to be on the safe side.

Interestingly, failure is quite an old topic. Socrates was already contemplating failure when he wrote: ‘Falling down is not failure. Failure comes when you stay where you have fallen.’ Failure is not making a mistake; it is giving up once something goes wrong. So far, so good.

However, when I was looking at my scarf, I realised that something in Socrates’ quote was bugging me, namely his emphasis on progress: Socrates encourages us to not give up, but to work towards our goal. But precisely this focus on making progress scared me off trying new things in the first place: what if I didn’t become good quick enough? What if I didn’t become good at all?

When I was knitting my scarf, it became clearer with every row that this was going to be a ‘funny-looking’ scarf. I was not gradually getting better – and neither was the scarf. And yet, it did not feel like I failed, simply because I did it. I dared to make an ugly scarf. And it made me realize that failing at being good and failing at becoming good at something is not all that bad.

What matters is doing it – not for potential growth or progress, but just for the fun of it. I would thus like to kindly suggest some changes to Socrates’ words and propose the following: ‘Falling down is not failure. Failure is not staying where you are. Failure comes when you don’t dare to fall.’

Read Jara Majerus's blogs here

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