What does it mean to fail? I think, if you have supportive people around you, failure is rarer and less tangible. I have done less well in exams than I would like. I took 4 goes to get my driver’s licence (or was it 5?). I made a terrible error at work that I am still ashamed of. But, emotionally speaking, none of those felt like failures because I had supportive people around me who didn’t judge me or make me feel bad. For me, the feeling of failure is associated with repetition. And always with other people’s opinions.
I once worked in a small family-owned business in Melbourne. I tried so hard to be everything the boss wanted me to be. The boss kept moving me on to new tasks to find one that suited me. But no matter what I did, I always fell short. By the time I left that company, I felt like I was inadequate for working anywhere. Nobody in that company was overtly cruel. In fact, I thought they were all nice. But they were devastating to my self-esteem. I remember crying down the phone to the man who is now my husband. He was great. He tried to show me another side to the story. But it doesn’t take much for that feeling of inadequacy to return. I can’t argue with it. Only shove it in a box and try to pretend it’s not there.
And my other big one is failing to make friends. When we came back from Indonesia and I tried to settle into an Australian school, I quickly learned that I was different and that difference wasn’t a good thing. Throughout my schooling in Australia, I felt like an outcast in one way or another. By the time I finished school, I definitely lacked confidence among my peers. Uni was better but I was still very unsure of myself. As I get older and more settled in my own skin, I am less self conscious and better at striking up conversations with strangers. But in large groups, I am still a total wall flower.
Recently I tried to be a good friend in extraordinary circumstances. I tried to give back some of the kindness that was shown to me last year while I was undergoing treatment for cancer. But, like at school, I have repeatedly felt like an outsider. And then, even when I made it “in” (so-to-speak) I felt so awkward and blundery that I felt I deserved to be pushed away. And now I have nearly given up. And it feels like a dreadful failure. But why? Who am I failing? If these people don’t want my help/friendship I am not failing them.
I angrily ask my mind what it is upset about and cannot come up with a good answer. But the feeling of failure is as strong as if I had a big red “F” on a paper I really cared about.
Ah. There’s the crux, isn’t it? Really cared about. That’s it. That’s the answer. I really cared about being the best person I could in these extraordinary circumstances. I was terrified. I confronted all sorts of fears inside myself and made an honest attempt to be the sort of person I watch and admire. But because this didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to, it feels like I failed. Now I see. But the people I was dealing with didn’t know that. I was just one among many who were offering help and friendship. I may have been more or less blundery than others but in the end, I wasn’t the natural fit for them. Of course, they have the right to accept the help of those they feel most comfortable with. And of course, I have probably unwittingly done the same to others who have offered help to me. In this instance, my feeling of failure is more about me not controlling the outcome of my own actions.
This is why I love writing. It helps me think. Words on a page, spat out of my own fingers. Black and waiting to be seen. I don’t know yet if I truly feel better. But I feel very glad to have written all this out.