Can successful people teach you how to deal with failure?

As in self-help books, bloggers like to write about failure, defeat, and frustration. Unfortunately, also like self-help books, they tend to write about these things in the context of...well, of success.  The author of the book, the author of the blog, are qualified to tell you about failure, because they are successful.

In this context, failures are learning opportunities. Frustration is surmounted and eliminated. The blogger is now a successful venture capitalist. Or award-winning (or even best-selling) writer. Or happily married with two kids and another on the way. Or just really good looking.

There is clearly a role for this kind of thing, as there is in belief in an afterlife. "Well, right now this sucks, but ultimately it will all work out." I too read these posts, looking for signs that the troops I've left on the battlefield did not die in vain, that all those corpses are really just a learning experience, fertilizer for the growth of future victory.

Part of the problem for me is that the failures of these now-successful people are also kind of like successes. They fail out of Harvard Law School even though their professors are in awe of their intellect. They lose a $5 million company. They sleep with 100 incredibly-hot-but-wrong-for-me people. They become desperate alcoholics, neglect their families,  and spend most of the award banquet after they win their Pulitzer puking in the bathroom.

So I understand I can't even fail successfully.  Or, as the old joke has it, "look who thinks he's nothing".

I understand that failure can sometimes only be discussed when an intervening success makes it less painful to contemplate. I just suspect that I'm not getting the real story, just as it seems that no photo you now see of a person shows you what they actually look like (I like the toggles in Figure 5, particularly the third and fifth ones).  We are curators of our own image, after all, and few people like to truly reveal the vomit-inducing pain of failure unless they fundamentally see themselves as successful. If you sometimes feel your being had by these stories, you are not alone.

I'm a middle-aged man trying to maintain a writing career that has never taken off the way it should have. I have not stopped trying, and will not. I'm not particularly confessional, so I doubt I will plumb the depths of failure for you here. But I will try to be clear about what this means, and what it requires.