“I think it’s important to have a good hard failure when you’re young” – Walt Disney.
The first time I heard this quote, I was fifteen years old, and the thought terrified me. It was around the same time that I had begun to adopt Walt Disney as my hero, and so I assumed that there must be some amount of wisdom in it, but I didn’t want there to be. My life had barely even begun, and the thought that, in order to become great, I needed to suffer some terrible loss or hardship was daunting. It made life seem harsh and cruel, and to put it simply, I just didn’t like it.
Because of that, I don’t think it was a quote that I really thought much about over the course of the next six years. It didn’t come to mind when I fell into the depths of depression, or when my anxiety crippled me for a year or two, or when I started to pursue my writing career with whole-hearted dedication and received nothing but rejection. But it comes to mind now, and the more that I think about it (from the wizened old age of twenty-one), the more that I see some truth in it.
There were a couple of years after I succumbed to depression and anxiety where I resented myself for letting it get so bad. I felt like I never really had the chance to live between the ages of eighteen to twenty – during those years, I was just a hollow, empty shell of a person, just barely doing enough to keep myself alive and pass all my classes. Life was so incredibly short, I decided, and it didn’t help matters when you threw away a few years of it so carelessly. The person who came out of my depression was therefore an entirely different person from the one who went into it. I was determined to do every important, meaningful thing that I had neglected during those years – and not only that, but I found myself appreciating feelings of passion much more than I ever had before. Passion is something unknown to the depressed mind, after all, and so I bask in the glow of every fiery anger, of every untold joy, of every unyielding commitment. It didn’t happen to me overnight, of course – it took months, years even, to get from Point A to Point B, but my point is that even if my experience with depression was terrible and even if I consider it a failure now, it wasn’t a waste of those few years. It made me a much stronger person than I ever was before. It made me the person that I needed to be.
And as far as my anxiety goes – whether I like it or not, it’s a part of me. It’s something that I’ve lived with my whole life, something that nestled into my heart at birth and that I will never be entirely free of. It was there even before it had a name, when I was a high school student googling feverishly the statement, “why am I stressed all the time” in the hope that someone might have an answer and a cure for me. It was something that was going to get bad sooner or later, and at least once it did, I was able to put a name to it and learn more about it. I was able to find a way to live with it, to adjust my thoughts and actions around it. Even if it crippled me for a time, that experience taught me how to be a person with anxiety, rather than anxiety itself.
And here I am now, dealing with another bout of failure – with the rejection of my work as a writer that, really, if I let it, could end me the way that my depression and anxiety could have ended me. I could have given up when my traitorous brain told me to, and I can give up now that the universe tells me to, but I won’t. I will keep pushing forward, even when my failures cause me pain, because I know that once I heal from that pain, I will heal stronger and better than ever. After all, I’ve done it before.
And if I could go back and speak to the fifteen year old girl who was struck with fear of that quote, I’d tell her not to worry. I’d tell her that failure is a bitter pill to swallow, and it will hurt, but life isn’t about avoiding pain. If anything, it’s about chasing it – about doing the things that make you afraid and have the potential to hurt you, because those are the things that bring you joy and pride in the long run. And once you overcome the initial pain, you will be so grateful for it.