Failure sucks. There’s no denying that. But every pratfall and tumble has an upside, even if it’s just the schadenfreude of knowing someone else screwed up too, or even worse than you ever have.
Enter Mark Aspelin. Aspelin bills himself as an “experienced practitioner in the failure arts” who has “been there, done that, and got the t-shirt when it comes to messing up in life.” Aspelin boasts years of speaking experience prior to his newfound membership into the circle of author-hood, focusing on the subject of failure and the lessons to be learned from the falls we inevitably take in life. His mantra of “failing smart” is an adjustment of our habit of seeing bad choices and poor results as a wholly negative experience, encouraging a bit of emotional alchemy as the sullen can be examined and twisted into something more positive and constructive.
So leads to his debut book, How to Fail at Life: Lessons for the Next Generation. Written partly for his son, the book is a refreshingly honest account of the myriad failures made by Aspelin and others, designed to hand down a few basic do’s and don’t's to those ready to make those same mistakes.
The writing is exceedingly witty with a sense of humor tuned just-right into a tried-and-tested frequency of pop culture. It’s a little silly and more than a bit self-aware in how it approaches with 20-20 hindsight; the half-lecture, half-anecdotal method of teaching works itself out in a way that feels honest and speaks eye-to-eye with the reader, even though it presumes that you’re one of the younger generation. It’s an unflinching read that has plenty of wisdom to share alongside a good helping of laughs, all with that “dad-like” comedy. It’s a little cringeworthy, but it consistently sticks the punchline anyway, regardless of whether the words “epic fail” are used in the piece.
The book isn’t intended as a true self-help guide despite its roots in the author’s experience of “a bazillion books in the personal development space,” more something of a collection of experiences that really speak for themselves. At least, they should, but they’re followed up by a detailed post-mortem nonetheless, just in case. Despite the genuinely laugh-out-loud humor of the book, it’s not too difficult to find yourself flipping past a page or two as you carry on through the piece. A lot of the “lessons” are fairly simple, though undeniably worth repeating. After all, we all still fall into the habits of living paycheck-to-paycheck or lapsing into an easy out, a quick fix, or an immediate pleasure over what we know we “should” do. The book just puts a hand on your shoulder, chuckles, and gives a gentle reminder of exactly why we shouldn’t.
With graduation season dawning, this strikes as a particularly good gift to a loved one (or yourself) as the structured lesson plans come to a close and the School of Hard Knocks takes over the rest of your tenure on this mortal coil. How to Fail at Life is an optimistic look at the mistakes we, at least almost, all make as we grow up, and is a hilarious and heartfelt little read from start to finish.