Whilst I was in the bath, I was listening to a really interesting podcast on celebrating failure, hosted by the writer Elizabeth Day. And it got me thinking about how we see failure as a dirty word, and how quick society can be to judge what they perceive to be failings; a failed marriage, a failed career path. But why are things deemed failures when life is such an ongoing journey?
Who are the people judging? The person with the 'perfect' marriage? (there is no such thing, as no person is perfect) or, the person who never attempted marriage themselves?
Is it worse to try something and not quite get to where you originally planned, but have learnt and grown along the way? Or is it worse to hide away and not try anything, for fear of being laughed at?
When I switched my views around on failure; stopped seeing it as a failure in itself, and started to accept it as a part of life, as a means of trying things out whilst you hone your life, your skills, getting things how you want them to be (or at least be in the same ballpark) I freed myself from guilt, regret. I became a hell of a lot happier. I had to get chronically sick in order to truly see what matters in life: don’t be me. Stop trying to get ‘there,’ wherever ‘there’ is. Most, if not all successful people, have ‘failed’ spectacularly along the way. Richard Branson is a great example of this; he went bankrupt several times over. But look at how ‘can-do’ he is, and how much he branches into, what a lust for life he has.
What about the many years of success at TRYING to make a marriage work, of learning how to cope with shitty bosses in jobs we hate, of the many years of enjoyment and learning in a career that maybe we weren’t destined to stay in forever. Why do we only seem to measure success in lengths of time spent doing a, b, c?
Failure at things breeds creativity; we have to regroup and recover, which is bloody horrible at the time, but actually always teaches us something. When we fail, we often discover inner reserves of strength, of courage. Failure can help us assess, and show us things we didn’t see before. Failure can teach us how to ask for help, or push for something different. It can cause huge anger, which, in small doses can fuel us to keep going, to fight harder to achieve what we want.
Failure is just a glorious sequence of EXPERIENCES that we have lived and learned from. When we mess up, we can put things right. Or hopefully even laugh about it as we reminisce about terrible ideas that we had whilst drunk. Terrible love affairs. Career mistakes. Attempting something we thought we might be good at and getting it SO wrong it's laughable. Hideous fashion. So what? It's not the end of our life. And who is keeping score anyway?
When I was feeling low many years ago about where I was in life, what I had 'failed' at, and where it had brought me, I disliked myself very much. I regretted so much, and thought I was a waste of space. In fact, let’s look at some of these failings and give them another spin:
“I failed at several relationships and two marriages” – so what? these relationships were not right. If they were right, they would have worked. Several of them were invalidating and toxic. I never gave up on looking for the right person. I learnt resilience.
“My body failed at getting pregnant for far too long.” – maybe it saved my life, maybe it wouldn’t have been a viable pregnancy. I now have a beautiful ten year old daughter. I learnt patience.
“I failed in my original career path, childcare.” – I really enjoyed it too, it brought me out of my shell, when I was shy, and it led me to other things. I developed confidence.
“I failed at keeping my family together” – But I succeeded at leaving an emotionally abusive relationship, to keep myself and my child safe. I learnt about narcissism, I learnt to thrive again, and I learnt inner strength. I help others who have experienced similar.
“I failed at friendships” – yes, many didn’t last, but I’ve made many more over the years. It is not just my responsibility to keep a friendship going; it is a two-way street. I've learnt about quality, not quantity. And I've learnt to stay away from drama, for my own peace of mind.
Now I regret nothing; it was all things I had tried and learnt from. I’m proud of my experiences, they strengthened me and they shaped me. I used to be terribly anxious about life. Now I find that the more I’ve done, the less there is to be afraid of. I am blissfully imperfect. Yet I am proud of what I have achieved, and continue to achieve.
Sometimes my ten year old daughter gets anxious about 'what other people may think...'
I told her this story:
Whenever there is a disco or a pub with a dance area, and everyone is sat enjoying the music, bobbing their heads along or singing, everyone stops to watch the lone person who gets up and dances alone.
The person dancing is having a great time! They are dancing because they want to, and because they love the music!
Everyone who is sat down, watches that person having fun with envy, because everyone wants to be the person who doesn’t care about failure, who doesn’t care what people think; the person who gets up and goes for what they want. The person who is dancing, enjoying themselves, is to be admired!
Basically, a lot of people will judge what you do. Whilst secretly wishing they had the balls to try it themselves. Be the person who does things, and inspires others.
Having lots of experiences is the best way to get to know yourself, to learn who you are and what you enjoy, and what you don’t enjoy. In short: failure is a fantastic way to shape yourself. And there is unbridled joy in knowing yourself and being happy anyway. Of grouping all of your glorious, messy experiences together as part of a life well-lived. Because when you know yourself, you are not hiding parts of yourself and you are not afraid. You are living your life as YOU, warts and all. And what beautiful warts they are.
So there you are. We all need to be failing more! Let's embrace getting out there, falling spectacularly on our faces, dusting ourselves off and trying again...
They've interviewed hundreds of people on their death beds; not one of them said, "I wish I'd done LESS. Every single person with regrets wished they had done more."
About the Creator
A mum, a friend to many and I love to explore dark themes and taboos in my writing. I am an optimist with a dark side...
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