Sunday, September 20, 2009

Living with failure

Do you ever feel that empty pit in the bottom of your stomach, after realising something you've spent a great deal of time doing, doesn't work out the way you planned? If I'm completely honest, I've always been a bit of a perfectionist so learning to live with failure has been quite a bumpy ride.

In the beginning I thought it was just me and my personality - as everyone else seemed to get on fine in their life. If they made a mistake, they'd shrug it off or just try harder. I thought I was the only person in the world who made a big deal out of failure. Of course, looking a little harder, I realise it's not the case.

Would you believe that even my garden could cause me to feel like a failure at times too? I bet you could, as I know I'm not the only one. When a plant dies after carefully nurturing it, or a whole garden is wiped out by natural causes, we instinctively feel impelled to blame something for it. If it wasn't the weather, our environment, or the politicians we elect - then the next culprit is ourselves. We obviously didn't do enough.

This whole process could be avoided however, if people accepted failure as having a useful place in our society. People always adapt, despite failure, if they can accept it isn't the end of all things we hold dear. Success doesn't mean the best thing to ever happen to us. Just as failure doesn't mean the worst.

Next time you're feeling down on yourself, or some aspect in society - take another look at what you're really trying to do. Maybe you don't want to invite failure into your own life, by accepting it exists at all?

As a former perfectionist obsessed with avoiding failure, I'm here to say that it's here to stay. I feel liberated that I don't have to worry about it's presence in the world. I don't have to defeat it or change it; because that way only saps your energy further.

I've been walking around my garden lately, feeling energised by the imperfections and things I haven't gotten around to yet. It doesn't rain enough for my garden, but the dry weather means I get more construction work done. Our retaining wall still looks like a dirt pile - no lush plants yet; but it's not harrowing me to finish it either. It will wait patiently for me, if I have the patience to accept where it's currently at.

It feels great that I don't have to change things which aren't really controlled by me anyway. Things like time, weather and life in general. The things I can change however, feel more meaningful to me. That's because I have the energy and sanity to appreciate them more now.

So next time you feel that empty pit in the bottom of your stomach, make a treaty with it. Let failure have it's time, and conserve your positive energies for the things you are able to make a difference to in life.


  1. If I had an 'applause' smiley I'd stick a few in here.

    I'm working on becoming a 'former perfectionist' but finding it very hard! I take these things personally too, from gardening disasters to ...whatever project I'm working on.

    What does give me strength however is the increasing range of skills I'm gaining and the new tasks I'm prepared to have a go at lately, whatever the outcome.

    Accepting failures ... now there's a challenge!


  2. As a child I was always taught there is no failure, simply lessons to be learned. I have raised my own children the same way.

    I guess failure could be when you learn nothing and keep repeating the same actions..."If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got"

  3. Absolutely; accepting failure is the biggest challenge of them all. I couldn't agree more :)

    I like what you were taught too molly, I had similar lessons. It's not a bad place to start with our kids either. :)

    However, it also presents a contradiction which I only stumbled upon recently myself. How can you learn the lesson, if you don't accept the failure first?

    I was ignorant to the fact that failure was a healthy reaction to learning, LOL. Seems silly now that I read that back, but when you don't know what you're doing, you're doomed to repeat it.

    I feel compelled now to teach my daughter that "failure" is healthy, and it's something we all do when we need to learn what's important.

    It's opened a whole new door of understanding to explore. Thanks for both your contributions, it's helped me see a lot more. :)


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