The Feeling of Failure

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.

13 thoughts on “The Feeling of Failure

    1. I often listen to a podcast called “How to fail with Elizabeth Day”. It’s British. She interviews very “successful” people and talks to them about 3 “failures” of their choosing. The idea is that failure is a part of success and is an important part of being human. I enjoy the conversations and relate strongly to some of her guests. It’s amazing how many list the drivers licence thing as a failure.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Sorry, worms, but bs. There’s nothing more uncomfortable about you than there is about anyone. We have close relationships with very few people. That’s just the way it is. Most people, you smile sweetly but they don’t really matter. Everyone on here, say. But I bet you have those few close people. You seem to say the right things, do the right things, what’s missing? Look around you.

    Living life is really about learning to be comfortable in the skin we’re in. I got there, aged about 30. How ’bout you?

    Next time you think you failed, ask your husband what he thinks. (But at the same time, be prepared for him to produce a list 🤣.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Feelings aren’t bs. Being comfortable is great but it’s not everything. I have been challenging my fears. That’s not comfortable. And feeling failure, whether the feeling is justified or not, is a moment of self questioning. How can I learn if I don’t question myself?

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I am actually not sure which bit you are saying is bull shit. That I felt an outcast at school? That that job was bad for my self esteem? That I have been disappointed with how my recent efforts have been received? Which bit of that are you saying is wrong?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah. Okay. I accept that. We are all the main characters in our own dramas and therefore overly conscious of our own roles. But I still think self reflection can be useful. And the end of this piece was analysis. Anyway, I’m going to delete this now because my Dad reads my blog on Saturday mornings and I’m not sure I want him to read this one.

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  2. What a great gush, Worms. Of course, you know I find you remarkable. And take it from a teacher, the difference between an F and an A is one measly little line. So I say, let the kindness in your heart flow without consideration of interpretations because to give and receive freely is the true measure of success. 💜

    Liked by 1 person

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