Giving Myself Permission to Fail

Every once in a while someone says what I’m thinking but am afraid to admit. I push some thoughts to the back of my mind because they’re not “trending” or because saying something out loud might make me look “less than” and therefore shouldn’t be spoken.

I was awakened to my suppression of a thought while I was scrolling through Twitter today and noticed a Tweet that said, “The Case for Reading Fewer Books.”

I was intrigued and clicked the link. It was an essay by Annie Neugebauer about how the advent of terrific social media tools may be impacting how we read. Now these tools, like goodreads.com, are great for sharing and reading book reviews and participating in the broader book reading community via online discussion and comments. But! As the essay writer notes, these types of tools can also make it all too easy to indulge our competitive natures and our desire to make ourselves more appealing to an internet audience.

Just as Instagram has made photography into a competitive sport via participants’ seemingly endless search for more “likes”, who knew that reading could become competitive too?

It’s a competition I willingly signed on to but didn’t acknowledge how my desire to achieve a higher number of books read and thus demonstrate how well read I am might be interfering with my joy of reading.

It all began by discovering someone else’s number of books read in a year. It was a lot. To see how I compared, (already a problem is brewing) I tried to figure out how many books I’d read in the same year. My number was much lower. Embarrassingly low. I’d only read seven books that year. I loved each book very much but how could I call myself well-read with such a low number?? Don’t get me wrong. I’m a constant reader. Of magazines, online essays and newspapers. (Another obvious need to prove myself to you. Ugh…) But I wanted to be able to say I’d read a lot of books! I wanted a bigger number.

So, I set a goal to read at least two books a month the following year. I kept a list on my phone. I was rapt with pleasure, like a drug-addict taking a hit (or an Instagram photog gaining a “like”) each time I added another title to my list. By the end of the year, I proudly boasted that I’d surpassed my goal and read 30 books.

And then, probably because I bragged about how many books I’d read, people began to ask for book recommendations. I’d review my list. And guess what I discovered? I only truly loved… seven of the 30 books I’d read.

This doesn’t mean there aren’t tons of terrific books out there. But books that really blow my skirt up don’t necessarily all come to me in the same year. And in my push to accumulate a higher number of books read, I didn’t take the time to be choosey. I just kept plowing forward – sometimes forcing myself to finish a book I didn’t like because I wanted to “count” it.

And long books made me anxious, not because I don’t like long books, but because reading a long book meant fewer books read and a lower number to report.

Turns out, I prefer long books. Thoughtful and thought-provoking books. (not that shorter books can’t be thoughtful and thought –provoking, i.e. Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber. But you catch my drift.)

Anyway, I’m not sure I can be cured of my addiction to achievement. And setting a reading goal is a good way to stay committed to regular reading. (So could being in a book club but I’m not the best book club member cause I tend to bitch about books that other people love.) But, I am going to try to give myself permission to “fail” when I don’t reach my book reading goal, especially if “failure” means I get to savor the books I really want to read no matter how long it takes me.

Special thanks got Neugebauer for helping me to see the error of my ways…

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8 thoughts on “Giving Myself Permission to Fail

  1. Donna Trump says:

    The Carolyn Hax advice column I read today (hang on, this IS related) implies that much of an advice-solicitor’s performance anxiety (read: fear of failure) came from parents without regard for their child’s greatness as a regular person. I would suggest great, regular people sometimes read 7 books a year and sometimes read 100. And sometimes zero.

  2. Hi Angela! What a cool thing to read. I’m glad me confessing my reading crimes helped you asses your own. (Kidding, kidding.) But seriously, it is nice to know I’m not the only one who does this. If you’re such a goal-oriented reader, here’s a thought: what if your goal was based on time spent reading rather than number of books? That way you could feel accomplished without the goal itself ruining your choice(s) of material. I love your passion here. Thanks for the post love!

  3. I can really relate to this. I’ve been in a pretty major reading slump lately (it’s slowly getting better), and that turned into an inferiority complex, which turned into stress about reading. None of this was good so I was very comforted to see first Annie’s and now your post. Maybe now I can truly relax into just reading what I love.

    • I too was grateful to see a post about this. And, as per usual, comparison is the thief of joy. May more of us support each other in our individual pursuits without always feeling better or worse by comparison. Thanks for your comment.

  4. Yep, gave me food for thought (Annie’s post and yours). I for sure have been reading as “sport” the past few years. There’s also a pressure I feel to #1. recommend books #2. keep up with favors authors ask of #3. read all the books I want to read. When people as for recs, I have the same situation as you did. I look at my list and can’t necessarily recommend most. Did I like most of the books? Sure. Would I say it should be THE ONE book you bring on a vacation? I’m usually nervous to say yes with much confidence with the exception of a few books.

    • I’m guilty of making most things a competition. I’ve tried to track my fitness but the need to make it about “winning” sucks the joy out of wonderful things like eating or reading books for goodness sakes.
      It’s my prayer that it’s not too late for my kids – that I constantly remind them that life is not always a competition. “Do as I say, not as I do?” Gah!
      Keep your favorite book recos coming!

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