HUMANS 101

If You Want to Enjoy Your Job, Try Failing

When I burned out at work, I tried doing things I was bad at. It worked.

Jude Ellison S. Doyle
Published in
6 min readJan 24, 2023

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A lot of messy, spattered paint and empty paint bottles on the floor.
Ultimately, my house-painting side gig did not work out. Photo by Ricardo Viana on Unsplash

Some time in 2019, I became sick of my own writing. This was an accomplishment, considering how much I normally love the sound of my own voice. I had been writing professionally for a decade; I had carved out a beat on “women’s issues”; I had made a name for myself, which, if not universally beloved, was not universally unknown.

You knew what to expect, clicking the link to a Doyle piece, and that was the problem: I had been writing the same thing, over and over, for years. Rape culture? Bad. Abortion? Good! I made the same points, in the same order, at the same length, so often that my editors didn’t just have to tell me I’d pitched them an idea already — they sometimes had to remind me that they’d published it.

I had chosen to be a writer because I genuinely loved the act of putting words on paper. Even when it was hard, I would rather have a hard time writing than an easy time doing anything else. I had acquired competence, and I had acquired professionalism, but in the process, I had drained the joy from my work. If I ever wanted to write something I was proud of, I had to start from the beginning. I had to fail.

Failure is a difficult word to define in a creative context. If it means not making money, well, Emily Dickinson never signed a book deal. If it means that critics dislike your work, well, The Great Gatsby got terrible reviews. J.K. Rowling received both a billion dollars and critical raves for a poorly written Star Wars rip-off, but she will not be remembered for anything but joining a hate group. External markers are unreliable, so let’s define failure as a personal issue: It’s what happens when you want to achieve something and you don’t.

The editor sends back a page with more red marks than text. No-one understands why your protagonist does what he’s doing. The song is supposed to be sad, but it’s just melodramatic. Your joke bombs so badly that it makes people angry. Your argument is phrased so that it conveys the opposite of what you thought you were saying. I have experienced all these failures, some recently, and none were fatal. Yet we view failure as catastrophe —…

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Jude Ellison S. Doyle
Human Parts

Author of “Trainwreck” (Melville House, ‘16) and “Dead Blondes and Bad Mothers” (Melville House, ‘19). Columns published far and wide across the Internet.