You Might Fail. Anything Else Is Magical Thinking.

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 6.03% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

Every time I say something like of “Some things can stop you from succeeding,” people act like I’m speaking from a victim mentality.

Full truth: Not everyone gets to be a trillionaire, or a famous movie star, or an Olympic athlete. There are things that can stop you – shit, being born in the wrong year can wreck your dreams as an Olympic gymnast, as it’s a highly age-dependent sport and you might peak in an off-year.

And, yeah. If you’ve got the wrong skin tone or the wrong sex or just aren’t handsome enough, the right doors might never get opened for you no matter how much networking you do. There’s a reason “redlining” still has an impact.

To quote the great Captain Picard: “It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness. That is life.”

And yet whenever I speak that reality – Hey, you can try your hardest and still fail – people swarm out of the woodwork to say “That’s a victim mentality! That’s why you fail!”

Buddy. I wrote seven novels over the course of twenty-five years before I finally cracked the market with my eighth novel, Flex. As a writer, I know more about persistence than you probably ever will. It’s not that I don’t work hard –

It’s that I’m realistic.

And hey, if the only way you can keep your spirits up is to delude yourself into believing that “MY HARD WORK IS DIRECTLY CORRELATED TO SUCCESS SO NOTHING CAN STOP ME” then great, I actually support whatever it takes to get you going in the morning. (My personal delusion is, “I have something unique worth saying,” which, you know, I write pretty weird-ass novels, but there’s probably someone out there who’s said what I have to say and better.)

But you gotta remember: That delusion is what gets you going in the morning.

The hard truth, objectively and easily proven, is that some people break their backs working both smart and hard, and something stopped them. Maybe it’s bad timing. Maybe it’s structural racism or sexism. Maybe it’s a better competitor. Maybe it’s scummy politics.

Acknowledging that is not necessarily victim mentality. It can be, but it can also be a healthy front-facing of the odds marshaled against you. I know plenty of people who discuss problems online and then succeed wildly in their personal life, so clearly it’s not as simple as “If you just work hard, you’ll succeed!”

If you’re gonna say “Acknowledging there are problems with society” is an inevitable sign of victim mentality, then I’m going to take the opposite approach. Because there are also a lot of people who are so committed to the idea of “Nothing can stop me if I work hard and smart” that they don’t see that their arrogance is off-putting, their products poor because they don’t bother to do the research, and that they’re actually failures who’d probably do better to take up a career that’s better suited to their actual skills.

(Got Hulu? Hell, just watch a season of Shark Tank. You’ll see ’em.)

So if every person who points out issues that stop people is being held back by their own insecurities, I will conversely assume that everyone who claims that is a doofus who hasn’t realized they’re not qualified for the job.

Truth is, yeah. You can fail. Often for reasons that had nothing to do with you. And if you gotta tell yourself that bullshit of “The worthy always succeed” to get yourself out the door, then okay, hey, whatever works.

But many of us – who work equally hard, who earn good money, who have accomplished much of what we wanted in life – can look failure in the eye and not have it dissuade us. Because it’s the truth. Not every actor who gets a #1 movie was the absolute best actor. Not every successful novelist was the best writer, unless you go to that circular definition of “the best” == “sells the best,” in which case there’s a ton of 1960s bestsellers who are unheard of and some very influential writers who died broke.

And not every billionaire was the most qualified for the job. Some of them had big jump-starts – in fact, most of them did, rich parents who gave them million-dollar loans or free office space or connections or all of those and more.

If you do not have those things? You could be stopped.

And to my mind, if “I could lose” is enough to send you packing, well, maybe you should pack. But your mind’s different from mine.

Just as my mind is different from yours. Just keep that in mind, is all.


  1. Anonymous Alex
    Aug 20, 2020

    Failure is always an option.


  2. Troutwaxer
    Sep 2, 2020

    Have you ever considered putting all the trunk novels online, maybe with a little commentary, just so people can see how an author develops? I don’t think you’re uncommon in writing seven novels before selling something.

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