How many times do you fail at things? Whether that’s an exam, a job interview, or just oversleeping your alarm *again*, failure is a huge part of day to day life. But despite the fact that failure is a thing that happens all the time, it is something that a lot of us are very afraid to do, it is the thing that stops so many of us from doing so much. “But what if I don’t get it?” “But what if I get it wrong?” “But what if I embarrass myself?” are just some of thoughts that we have on a daily basis, thoughts that prevent us from trying something new or going after what we want simply because we are concerned that we are going to fail.
I fail all the time. I oversleep my alarm, I get rejected or turned down, something I do isn’t good enough, I give up on something before I have given it a chance. Some days are successes, some days are failures. But most of the time, my days are a combination of the two. You win some, you lose some, right? Take this morning for example. I overslept. Already I felt like I had failed before the day had started, so when I went for a run, or attempted to go for a run I should say, I was not even slightly surprised that I gave up. I stopped running after 1.4 miles. Why? Because my head told me that I couldn’t do it. And since my brain lives in my head and the rest of me is nothing more than muscle, fat and organs, I allowed my body to do as my brain said: it must know better, it’s my brain for Godssakes.
So I walked home in a bad mood, I was angry with myself, disappointed that I had failed at something. I felt like I had let myself down, that I was stupid and pathetic and worthless. But then I got home, turned on my computer, made myself a cup of coffee and checked my emails. There was nothing particularly exciting there, mostly just the Monday morning press releases but amongst them there were things that cheered me up: comments on articles that I had written, messages from readers, an email from a friend, all making me feel like what I was doing was important. And I took these little victories and ran with them, the shame that had come with quitting this morning ebbed away as I realised that it wasn’t the end of the world and that today might be more of a combination day after all.
The fact is, most days are combination days. You would be incredibly unlucky if every single thing you did went wrong. If you overslept, put your pants on inside out, got rejected from a job that you wanted, maxed out your credit card, lost your keys, crashed your car, spilled your lunch down your shirt, set fire to the kitchen, lost your television remote, dropped your phone down the loo and broke up with your partner. That would, admittedly, be a failure of a day from start to finish. But mostly, things don’t happen like that, Mostly, we win some and then we lose some. So we oversleep, but then we get to the tube just in time to catch our train. We have a fight with our other half but find a fiver in our jacket pocket. We spill coffee down our shirt but then get an email from our boss telling us to keep up the good work. We smash our phones but then get home and make the best damn spaghetti bolognese the world has ever seen. Sometimes it feels like the bad has outweighed the good, sometimes it actually has, but most of the time, something good happens every day.
And we need to learn how to not just see the good, but to accept the bad too. It’s all too easy to feel like the world is ganging up on you, to let yourself feel hard-done by, to blame yourself and beat yourself up for various short comings. Trust me, I do it all the time. But that’s not right, and it’s not fair. Why do we talk to and about ourselves in a way that would be TOTALLY unacceptable for someone else to do?
When we fail at something, we feel that we are letting the world down. Despite the fact it was only me and Bua on my run this morning, when I stopped I just remember thinking: everyone will be so disappointed. But now I’m looking back and thinking: who are these other people exactly? Who even knows that I’m here? What business is it of theirs? When I get an email back from an editor, or worse still, no email back from an editor or a PR, telling me (using one of the two methods) that they don’t think I’m a good fit, I find myself feeling really embarrassed. Again, why? Does it affect anyone else in anyway at all that I’ve missed out on something? Nope. The email was meant for me, it was about me and it was read by me. The only person who has to deal with that, is me.
And I have to stop being ashamed of that, we all need to stop beating ourselves up and punishing ourselves when we ‘fail’ at something. No one thinks any less of you, not least of all because most people don’t even know that you’ve tried – let alone failed. Most of us are so scared of this feeling that we say no to things because of the chance that we are going to be rejected and lose face, it’s tragic and it’s such a waste. Failing is nothing to be ashamed of, so why do we keep feeling that it is???
It’s no secret that we are too hard on ourselves. We are mean to ourselves all the time, we talk ourselves out of doing things and beat ourselves up when we get things wrong. But we need to stop doing that. We need to remember that failure is all part of being a human being. Just because we have failed at one thing it does NOT mean that we are a failure. And it definitely doesn’t mean that we won’t succeed another time. “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again.” That’s something that my mum used to say to me so much and something that I never really adhered to. But I realise now that it’s perfect, sure I didn’t succeed at first today, lots of us don’t succeed first time, but we try until we do. And we will.
We need to stop being scared of failing and for beating ourselves up when we do. Failing is NOT a sign of weakness, all it actually is is evidence that we tried, and isn’t that so much better than not even trying in the first place?