Truman Capote once said, “Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor.” As an exceptional writer who faced constant adversity throughout his life, I’m sure Capote knew what he was talking about. At any rate, this section of my discussion is dedicated to pondering the meaning of his wise words. “The condiment that gives success its flavor,” eh? So, if some part of my life were characterized as crispy, golden brown french fries, salt, ketchup, chili sauce, mustard, feta cheese, pickles, or whatever else people choose to douse their french fries in, would be failure.
It is as if without the additional zest that these condiments deliver, that life would be bland, dry, and essentially meaningless. While we might like whatever substance we put into our mouths, our taste buds would not cry in sheer delight from the experience. We would not relish the exquisite flavor the condiments would release upon consumption. It would just be another meal. A dry piece of white bread. Oatmeal without honey, nuts, cut fruit, or sugar. In essence, while we all agree that the taste of success is delicious and saccharine sweet, the experience would certainly be dulled by the lack of failure or spice.
Anyway, I like to think about the meaning of Capote’s words in my own times of failure, because for better or worse, I tend to experience it more than I would like. And it’s not as if I’m entirely dysfunctional, clumsy, or incapable; I’d say if you took one hundred different circumstances in my life and examined the outcome of each (how embarrassing would that be) that there would be a roughly equal number of successes and failures.
Personally, I’ve always felt as if nothing has ever come immediately for or to me; I’ve always had to invest a substantial amount of time and effort into something in order to achieve any sort of skill, accomplishment, or reward. Consequently, the road to my success is often tempered with multiple failures.
Take for instance, learning how to ride a bike. Everyone who has had the privilege of riding a bicycle has endured the grueling first attempt. When I was in the first-grade, I was more than happy to zoom across the sidewalks on my tricycle. With my hot pink wheels, woven basket, and bright purple helmet, I felt as hardcore as any member in a legitimate motorcycle gang would. Yes, I could’ve carried on in my merry ways forever, until I noticed that several of my classmates had upgraded their tricycles to (gasp) two-wheelers.
Where I once sauntered to school with my tricycle, showing it off as a wondrous, pink display, I now actively avoided using it, aware of the fact that it had suddenly become socially unacceptable. No one would directly point out, but you’d learn of their quiet derision through the snickering in the hallways.
Yes, it was certain, I would have to learn how to ride a bike- and not just a tricycle. I would have to master the art of riding a two-wheeler, independent of third party assistance.
In my desperation to learn and to become “cool” once more, I sought the help of my two older and wiser cousins who only lived a few minutes away. Having two formidable two-wheeled vehicles of their own (and no, I’m not referring to motorcycles), they were masters of the careful balancing act that I’d seen so many others effortlessly perform.
After I informed them of my woeful predicament, they readily agreed to impart their knowledge to me, a young, wide-eyed disciple. They started by having me sit on the small, elevated, and uncomfortable seat of a bicycle without their assistance.
“You have to find your balance,” they told me resolutely.
I smiled and nodded confidently. Okay, how hard can this be? I don’t even have to ride it, I just need to balance. That’s all.
I started with a few uncertain steps of my right foot to push the bike forward, but rather than a smooth lift, I found myself precariously tipping to the right. Determined to prolong the absurd ride, I jerked my body to the left to counteract the cruel force of gravity, only to begin wobbling uncontrollably. I was losing my balance; the earth had ceased to be a constant, horizontal companion at my feet, and started to shift threateningly towards me. But wait. The earth couldn’t move towards me, it was a relatively fixed element, which meant- WHAM.
What just happened to our young protagonist? Will she ever learn how to ride a bike? Learn all this and more in the next installment to The Essential Condiment of Failure.