The Atlantic recently put out a seemingly forgettable tweet that I’ve nonetheless gotten hung up on: “‘The Odd Couple’ is the latest failure for Matthew Perry.”
Full disclosure: I didn’t watch CBS’s modern reboot of the Neil Simon classic and therefore don’t know whether or not it is a flop. Also, Matthew Perry is one of those celebrities whom I really want to see win. I tend to root for individuals who experience huge success, stumble from the limelight, slay more than their fair share of demons, and stand up resolved and ready for a comeback.
But what really bothered me about the tweet was the trumpeting of the word “failure.”
When it comes to failure, no one is immune. Mistakes mark the human journey like lines on notebook paper: There are many, and each one is needed for the page to be complete.
Failure often serves as a stepping stone toward victory, but when people are slapped with defeat, the last thing they need is for someone to point out their shortcomings.
Now, I understand that David Sims’ — the entertainment journalist from The Atlantic who wrote the article that inspired the tweet — does not have a responsibility to protect the feelings of celebrities. He’s not Perry’s friend. He’s a journalist tasked with writing witty sentiments about television shows, and he’s good at it. I certainly don’t fault him for expressing his opinion.
The tweet merely served as a reminder of what people don’t need (and what they do need) when they fail. For instance, people need …
A reminder that THEY aren’t a failure
Ideas, circumstances, products, and projects are failures; people are not.
When I worked for a community bank, one of my responsibilities included writing the CEO’s letter for the annual report. The letter I penned turned out to be bold, inspiring, well-written, and exactly NOT what the CFO wanted (At the bank, the CFO was in charge of the creative and financial components of the annual report). The communication piece I spent hours researching and carefully crafting never even hit the CEO’s desk. My work was deemed a failure, and I was crushed.
Sometimes a wonderful idea, even when it’s followed by hard work and talented execution doesn’t pan out as expected. At those times we need someone to come along side us with a gentle reminder that we’re not the flop. In the case of the annual report, my boss offered solace with the following words:
“Angela, you’re a great writer and that was one of the best annual report letters I have ever seen. But, the CFO’s an accountant and he wants to take an extremely conservative approach to the letter and focus on the numbers. On the bright side, everyone loves the ad copy you came up with for the home-equity commercials!”
My boss’ encouragement reminded me that I wasn’t a lost cause even though my contributions to a particular project weren’t accepted.
Distance from the critics
This world bustles and brims with people who derive great pleasure from the misfortunes of others. In the words of Paulo Coelho from his book, Eleven Minutes:
“Don’t listen to the malicious comments of those friends who, never taking any risks themselves, can only see other people’s failures.”
While there is good reason to heed constructive criticism and glean all that can be learned from a failure, sift out the nasty remarks from the well-meaning words of advice. When the wound is freshest is when we need the greatest distance from those who feel happy when we fall.
I once auditioned for a musical in high school even though I couldn’t carry a tune in a steel bucket. My chorus instructor somehow was under the impression that a songbird fluttered somewhere inside me and was hindered by my shyness. I always dreamed of performing a showstopper on stage, so I believed him. I picked up some sheet music, practiced, then sang my heart out for the judges … who looked simultaneously horrified and sympathetic.
Later, when I told my nana about the painful audition she gently, but honestly said,
“Angie, you can’t sing. You never could and you never will. It’s just not the gift God gave you. But don’t let that stop you from doing what you can do. You can act, so next time just try out for a speaking part. And you can write. Spend the time you would spend trying to sing writing instead!”
My nana believed in me. She didn’t believe I could sing, because I couldn’t and still can’t. But she believed I was talented and let me know, with her loving brand of candor, that she was in my corner.
Hopefully Matthew Perry won’t be bothered much by negative reviews, and will be surrounded by encouraging people who will remind him of his endearing charm, past successes, and ability to trigger belly laughs. We all deserve a little positivity, especially after we’ve been knocked down.