Self-Care Sunday #21: Recognising Failures as Life Experiences

How many times in your life have you failed to accomplish a goal that you’ve set for yourself? Whether it was for educational, professional, or personal reasons? How often have those failures left you utterly demoralised and wanting to give up, thinking that perhaps what you set out to do may be out of your league or capabilities?

I can tell you right now that facing my failures and trying to process how to move forward from them is a constant battle in my daily existence. There have been plenty of times when I’ve reached a point in my life, whether professionally or personally, where I was ready to throw all my hard work into the fucking trash compactor and walk the hell away. There are even a couple of occasions where I did just that, and you know what? They became the biggest regrets of my life.

Today, I wanted to chat with you about failing. What does it truly mean to fail? Does failing have to be the Be All and End All of our hopes and dreams? Is failure a societal construct to hold the “less than” down in the gutters, or is it an easy way to avoid the things we desire the most because we’re too afraid?

As someone who’s recently come to terms in quite an intimate way of what the essence of failure truly encapsulates, I wanted to sit down and spread my experiences to others with the hopes of helping them through similar struggles. Because I am an old kitty-cat, my words here may be a strange combination of bluntness and cheesy clichés. But you know, I feel that is the absolute best way to explore something as sharp and penetrating as being less than our expectations.

Failures I’ve Experienced

Talk about ripping a whole damn wound open, let’s start with some of the failures I have faced in my life. A couple of them are older and a couple are newer.

The first failure I want to discuss is one from my personal life. I was sixteen years old, going on to seventeen, and I was dating this extraordinary woman. When I first met her, I was attracted to her long hair and this air of confidence that she exuded. Eventually through some of this and a splash of that, we began seeing each other. We were only together for eight months, but she was the unequivocal love of my life.  It was the sort of love you’d expect to read about in books with flawed characters bearing heavy emotional baggage (we were far from perfect). Deep down in the blackest and coldest parts of my heart, the portions I kept safely guarded and steadily apart from everyone I cared for, I knew I loved her very, very dearly. But the whole idea of love was inconceivably terrifying to me. Having witnessed so many messy and fucked-up, toxic relationships at such a young age, I didn’t want to hold myself to that level of commitment.

One morning as my mates and I were planning a celebration party for my brother, she told me she loved me. It was the most natural and simple moment; quite fitting for the type of people we were. When I didn’t say anything, she explained her feelings and just what being in love meant to her. She said she didn’t expect me to say it back and I didn’t in that moment. She left to go about her day, and I walked around like a zombie trying to process what all of this meant.

By the time she joined the party that evening, I had been filled to the brim with fear. I was utterly frightened of being loved, or trying to reciprocate love, and eventually letting her down. To me, this was the natural evolution of relationships. Disappointing one another to the point where that affection and passion mutates into hatred. I ended up breaking her heart in the most outrageous way possible that night. In the morning, she was gone for good. I wouldn’t see her again for years.

This is a failure to me because I allowed my fears and insecurities to rip away the one thing that meant the most to me. My failure to act, to be honest about my feelings and the things I was afraid would happen to us, to communicate with my partner, led to one of the biggest losses I have ever known.

Another example of failure from my past is one that’s a bit more pragmatic. When I was a kid, my brother taught me how to drive. Eventually he would start training me to race cars. When I got a handle on the basics, he taught me drifting and an array of techniques to help me in a battle, or race. There was one that I had always wanted to learn, his very special technique. I spent months practising it. Yet no matter what I did, my car would not behave the way I wanted it to, needed it to in order to master this fucking technique. One day after training for about seven hours (and going through many tires), I gave up. I knew that I was never going to be good enough, so why bother with the effort. Suffice to say, my brother was extremely disheartened in me.

One of the more recent failures I have experienced is with my professional career. I have been trying to get a job at the local library as a Shelver for almost one and a half years now. It’s a difficult job to get, especially because there is such a demand for it in my city. I know that if I can get my foot into the door with this bottom tier position, it would not only help me to support myself and  my family, but it would give me the work experience I need in order to complete my Associate’s of Science degree in Library & Information Technology. For the past year and a half, I’ve never gotten a call-back. They continue to not have space.

Now, it can be argued that this isn’t a failure, per se, as much as it is a waiting game. Nevertheless, when you’ve been trying for so fucking long, it can make you feel like you’re just not cut out for the gig, and that is powerfully crushing.

The last example, I’m going to use is a very recent one and involves my attempts at getting published as an author, a poet specifically. My poetry manuscript has been completed for about a year. Last year in November, I took the plunge and submitted my work to a poetry-specific publishing company. This was the first time in my life I had ever submitted my written work for publication purposes, including online literary spaces. They said it would take them a minimum of twelve weeks to get back to me. It was the most excruciating three months of my authoring-life.

Then sometime in February to March, I finally received feedback. I had gotten rejected. The company felt my work wasn’t fit for their unique kind of poetry (i.e.: flash poetry, basically, which I don’t do). When I initially read the e-mail, I didn’t feel a damned thing. My body and mind were numb to it. However, when night-time rolled around, I sat down in the middle of my living room randomly and began to sob. I cried so much. On some level, I wholeheartedly believed that I wasn’t good enough to be an author. I almost quit writing, everything—poetry, short stories, my novels, blogging. All of it.

What is failure?

The most textbook definition of failure is “a lack of success.” If we go by that merit, then all the shite I told you about my life are essentially failures. We can add technicalities and bullshite the many ways they might not be, but at their core, in their most basic forms, they are failures. Does that mean they are also the End All of future successes in those relative areas for the remainder of my existence? That I’m boxed in with Hello Kitty duct tape and unable to go beyond its confines? That I’m not cut out for success in those respective parts of my life?

Fuck no.

Although, society would probably like to tell me differently.

Our world likes to look at our accomplishments for the briefest of seconds; to celebrate those achievements for as long as the champagne runs. Once it’s gone, so is the recognition. Now, when I say recognition, I’m not talking about fame and glamour. I’m speaking about the appreciation for the work that has been done. Whether that involves achieving getting a college degree, successfully finding love, reaching the top tier within your chosen career, etc. Those moments are fleeting in an atmosphere that feeds and thrives off the pain and suffering of others. I mean, how else is humanity supposed to run away from and ignore its own shortcomings if not by fixating on the ways that other people fall short?

It can be unfathomably easy to look in the mirror and see a giant pile of the things we’ve lost or weren’t able to conquer. I look in the mirror and I see a thirty-one-year-old divorced person who sacrificed their dream of going to Oxford University for an abusive, racist piece of shite. I see someone who can’t make up their minds about wanting a college degree and keeps screwing themselves over in the process. The face looking back is of a human being who is so emotionally damaged that they are afraid of being loved, bleeding wounds, decaying scars and all. Finally, I see an individual who wants to become an author so badly yet is so brilliantly horrified by the notion that they lock themselves into a writing rut dungeon.

Regardless of all this shite, is that all I am? Is that all that I shall ever be in the remaining years of my life? More so because that is how society views me? Although, if we’re to be super blunt, society probably sees me as a “Stupid terrorist who needs to either go back to her country or die a brutal death because she’s a brown Muslim who either wants to blow up America, or infect White children with her Faggotry.” (This has all been said to my face in one way or another.)

Again, the answer to all of this is FUCK. NO.

Failures & Expectations

For the longest time, I had read many resources on relationships and this discussion of how if you’re a commitment-phobe, or if you sabotaged the greatest relationship you’ve ever had, you’re doomed to be alone. Before I exorcised myself from the Hell that was my marriage, I completely bought into that. Even after my divorce, for the first year or so, since it was a reminder of how bad I am at being in a serious relationship. Despite those negative contemplations and emotionally devastating feelings, I got treatment for my mental health illnesses and finally started to wake up to the reality that having bad relationships doesn’t mean that I’m going to be alone forever. Nor does it mean that I’m doomed to re-live the same fate repeatedly.

My bad relationships, or my failures at maintaining a healthy one, were life experiences. With each one, I learned something new. I discovered what red flags to keep an eye out for to recognise abusive or harmful and toxic behaviours and personalities. It taught me that not every relationship is black and white, good or bad. Additionally, it led me towards a path of self-love and self-respect because I understood that without those things, I’ll never be able to find a person who can love and respect me in return, and it shall prevent me from loving and respecting my partner as an equal.

Bad relationships have also taught me how to be kinder and more compassionate with other types of bonds, such as friendship and family ties. It gave me a great appreciation for family values and that those values are beautifully intimate to the individual. My failed romantic relationships have given me success in relationships with people, and to me, that’s quite a bit more profound. This is a notion I never would have understood if I didn’t displace my biased and severely distorted expectations of what a relationship is supposed to be.

The woman who grew to be my epic love wasn’t lost to me forever. I met her again many years later after my divorce and we were able to talk through all of our history and find one another again. Unfortunately, she passed away. But by being able to have those moments with her, I experienced what love is, as a wiser and more evolved adult. An opportunity that I never would have had if it weren’t for my past failures.

Similarly, with all my other unsuccessful aspirations, good things have come out of them. I stepped away from practising that drift technique for half a year. When I eventually came back to try it out again, I had it mastered in another three months. It helped me become an undefeated racer for the vast majority of my racing career. It also taught me that having a hot head is never the best way to approach an obstacle. Patience, while incredibly annoying and aggravating to me, truly is a virtue that shouldn’t be taken for granted or disrespected. Plus, it was the first time in my life I valued hard work and dedication to a craft, showing me that perseverance is the key to creating realistic expectations that can also be ambitious.

Getting rejected from the publishing company also wasn’t a total loss. When they sent me the rejection, they had stated clearly that while my work isn’t a fit for their unique brand of content, they felt that I had brilliant potential and that my work was sorrowful but quite beautiful. They even gave me advice in how to proceed with my future endeavours and hoped to see me as a published poet one day. Rather than shatter all my expectations entirely, the rejection gave me a great sense of hope and positivity for setting new ones.

Yeah, I failed. Nonetheless, I obtained important insight about my abilities that I otherwise wouldn’t have received. Also, getting the first rejection makes it easier to plod through others. While they won’t be any less devastating, I can openly accept that it’s just a part of being an artist, especially an artist of colour who’s also Queer. Ripping off that band-aid helped to rip off a decent chunk of my apprehension and anxiety too.

Oh, and as far as that library job is concerned, I received an e-mail a couple of days ago. They’d like to interview me for the Shelver position. I still must successfully navigate through the choppy waters of whatever their requirements and expectations are, but my patience paid off. One year and six or seven months of waiting has led to this long-anticipated and long-desired opportunity to fall into my lap. If I get the job, all my college worries will also sort themselves out.  

Failures Equal Experience

Every single failure, or unsuccessful moment in your life is experience. It’s just like playing a video game. Whenever you slay a Tonberry, Great Marlboro, Cactuar, or the behemoth that is the Adamantoise, you get experience points that help you level up. With each new level you gain, your stats increase. You get stronger and wiser. Your intelligence and perception evolve. Your vitality is sturdier, so when the next challenge or obstacle arrives, you can take a harsher beating. You may even learn some new abilities or tricks that are unique to you that shall help build an arsenal towards conquering whatever your next foe may be.

With each new aching experience of failing—even if it makes you feel like the world is about to end, or that it is fervently against you and all that you desire from life—understand that what you feel is fleeting. It doesn’t need to consume you. Don’t let the negativity and the pain possess your passion for achieving all the things you want to achieve. When you fail at something, it’s because there is a much better and far more rewarding morsel of success out there waiting for you to reach out and grasp it.

9 thoughts on “Self-Care Sunday #21: Recognising Failures as Life Experiences

  1. Pingback: Library Loot #22: Diverse Young Adult Fantasy & Psychological Thrillers | BiblioNyan

  2. Failure is an interesting thing, because really the only true failure is never trying in the first place (or running away because things are to hard) If you put yourself out there and try to succeed, in a way you already have. If it doesn’t work out that isn’t failure so much as you said, a life experience. And we all need that precious XP to level up in life!

    • Indeed! This is something I’ve been learning the past few years and it’s made taking the plunge or at the very least wanting to seem far less intimidating and like the “be all, end all” of whatever it revolves around.

  3. I definitely faced failure this year. Failure is the word I am trying to come to terms with, as I process things and try to make sense of what happened. Moving on from failure and hurt takes time, a long time, and I am still not much better than I was in April. I failed a semester… it was clinical I failed but clinical was the thing I feared most. I felt like I wasn’t good enough and that I didn’t deserve to take care of these patients, especially with their lives on the line. Not only that, but I felt like an imposter, known as imposter syndrome. I still don’t feel like I deserve to pass and obtain this degree but I don’t think I know enough. It’s been a huge struggle for me. Despite all of the work and preparation I do, I still can’t seem to see the good and mostly see the bad. Now I am very scared to go back to school next January and afraid I’m wasting all of this time for nothing. What if it was all for nothing? Nothings improved since April. I haven’t made progress in other areas of my life. It’s like there’s a carrot dangling in front of my face and Im the donkey who can’t quite reach it no matter how many steps I take….

  4. I’d say that, even if the publisher didn’t decide to accept your book, the fact that they complimented your poems and even gave you some advice is a success in it’s own right. Perhaps not as significant a success as getting a publishing deal, but I’ve only ever received form rejection letters when I’ve submitted my writing to publishers, so I think the fact that they sent you a personalized response is something you can take pride in. I hope that you’ll keep submitting to other publishers and that you’ll get your poetry published someday 🙂

    • Thank you so much! It was very hard to see that positivity beyond the “REJECTED” aspect, but I have been trying and I’m going to keep working hard to get published!

  5. I’ve never been able to look at failures and chalk it up as a life experience.

    They haunt me. If I cannot get back up on the horse right away, I integrate it into my feeling of inadequacy as a human being. If I fail enough, I am a failure. Or so I feel. I’ve been told it often enough by the people who make such decisions.

    Every rejection of who I am, every failure to accomplish my goals or failure to meet someone’s expectation, didn’t get the job I was best qualified for, every time I’m laughed at for social awkwardness, every time I had to jump back in my closet and slam the door, that’s another failure in the accumulated total that is my life. Ever needing a closet to begin with was a failure on my part to be a normal person. Not my fault but still a structural flaw in my personality.

    All I can do is to have “doing the best I can do” to be my goal. Having retired, that is finally possible. Hike the trail as far as I can rather than getting to the top of the mountain. I have to set the goal internally. If my goal is at all dependent on someone else’s definition of success I will, more often than not, fail. I have to incorporate “F*** the world!” into so much of what I do. I have never gotten to the point where success is unimportant but I have come to a place where I accept the absurdity of life.

    Stay out to jail and not be hated… too much. Those are goals I think I can achieve.

    OTOH, I don’t want other people’s lives to be worse because of me. I interpret that as another failure. I just wish they weren’t so judgemental. But to be social is to be judged and those judgments directly impact the quality of your life.

    It is one reason why I love the wilderness so much. The trees and mountains and bears don’t judge you. The risks are those I can deal with. Success continued existence and you are just another rock or tree or bear. Nobody to complain about social faux pax, how you look, what you’re wearing (or not), tell you you’re inadequate or criticize the messiness of your kit or the quality of your work.

    • I do it a lot with other things in my life. Like, it’s very difficult to get a D or an F in a class and see it as life experience, or to not feel inadequate, especially if you’ve worked your ass off the whole time. And there are plenty of other instances aside from that one.

      For me personally, it can be extremely draining both physically and mentally to stay stuck in the black smoke that surrounds me when I fail at something, so I had to make strides in fighting that the best that I could. My health coach from last year taught me about self-affirmations and looking at certain failures as opportunities, and it took me months before I was able to do it. But it made a huge impact for me.

      Although it’s not perfect. I agree with you about being in the wilderness. I don’t get to hike often (not too many places in my area to hike unless I drive for hours), but when I do it’s very peaceful. It’s the only real chance I get at being myself 100% with no masks or facades. It’s wonderfully comforting.

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