Sometimes it feels like the whole world is infected with “the grind” mindset. We are constantly working towards something, chasing success like Sisyphus pushing his boulder. Our superiors (the boss, the college, the internship, whatever it is) say they are understanding but the competitive environment they enforce means that you have to be the very best of the best to achieve your goals. Accomplishments are revered, and everyone pushes forward all the ways in which they are great, like a frenzied Instagram page, pushing anything that complicates that perfect image away into the dark corners. We worship prestige, creating elitism in every facet of society because success is most impressive when others have tried and failed. And, of course, those who don’t succeed obviously just didn’t work hard enough because what other explanation can there be?
I am not the first person to say that this outlook is toxic, but perhaps my reason for believing so is unique; I believe that “the grind” mindset, or even much of our culture as a whole, is missing something fundamental: the value of failure. If you take a moment to think about a time when you’ve failed (maybe you got a question wrong in front of the class, got rejected, failed an exam, etc…) then you most likely inwardly cringe and feel a strong desire to curl up into a ball and disappear. You might hate yourself for whatever you perceived you did wrong, thinking in horror of the people watching you completely embarrass yourself. You probably want to brush it under the rug and pretend it never happened. But, instead, maybe you should… laugh?
Last year I accidently stumbled upon The Goes Wrong Show. This two-season gem aired on the BBC and was created by the Mischief theater group (The same group responsible for The Play That Goes Wrong and other comical masterpieces). The premise of The Goes Wrong Show is simple: every week, a group of fictional actors known as the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society put on a different play, and, as you can guess from the title, everything goes without a hitch.
Few things have made me laugh as much or as hard as watching these fictional idiots fail at putting on play after play after play. No matter how bad things get, the show must go on, usually into even more ridiculous and mistake-prone territory. They have to push through everything from forgetting lines, to sideways sets and various levels of nudity. Yet, far from making me cringe, watching someone shout “erection” instead of “objection” in a courtroom scene made me smile. Perhaps part of the reason for this is that I’m glad I’m not in their shoes, but I believe that there is more to it than that. Even as the show invites you to laugh and make fun of its pathetic characters, it also celebrates them. The show wouldn’t be what it is if everyone simply succeeded the whole time. One can’t help but love these pathetic characters, not despite their flaws, but because of them. They bring joy and humor. Their failures are intensely entertaining, full of life, and brilliantly human.
So, why is it so hard to turn this same logic in on ourselves and our own failures? What makes it so hard to see our own mistakes in the same light? Why do we gravitate towards elitism and accomplishments like moths to the flame? Why is failure only accepted when contextualized as a stepping stone on the road to success? The Goes Wrong Show alternatively celebrates failure for failure’s sake. It’s comedies like these that remind us that screwing up makes life so much more colorful, interesting, and even, dare I say it, endearing. After all, there is some evidence to support the idea that embarrassment can even make you more likable to others.
So, the next time you scroll through Instagram and feel like you’re inferior, take comfort in the knowledge that yes, you are inferior, and that’s okay. The next time you walk into a glass wall or throw up on your crush, go ahead and laugh your head off (probably making everyone stare at you) and then just laugh some more because your stupidity is hilarious and wonderful and beautiful in its own right.