Ask An Adult: How To Learn To Be OK With Failure
The Debrief: Because some fails aren't a disaster, OK…
Artwork by Beth Hoeckel
A-level results are announced this week, whereupon thousands of young women will no doubt feel like failures. Don’t be one of them. I have been a school dropout, skint, homeless, in debt, divorced and about a hundred other things one might class as big, fat fails. But these things are nothing to be ashamed of.
1. Failure is not only inevitable, it’s essential
We live in a culture where failure is seen as something to be avoided at all costs. But just as children should get chickenpox, and be allowed to play in mud so a bit of bacteria won’t harm them later on, young women must experience small failures to ready themselves for the big stuff that can, and definitely will, go wrong. Frankly, it’s a kindness to fail now. I’ve seen so many people who’ve only ever known a charmed, secure, smoothly run life go into full meltdown the moment even the tiniest thing has gone awry.
2. You can’t enjoy success if you’ve only ever won
I have had some grim times in my life. I’ve been a teen runaway, living on one bag of pasta and a block of cheese, every day for a week before buying the same again – for literally months on end. I’ve walked regularly for three hours from work to my former flatshare in a scuzzy part of south London, because I didn’t have money for the bus. I was hopelessly skint and often very sad, but my need not to be beaten by failure propelled my one foot in front of the other until I was the editor of a glossy magazine some 11 years later. And I felt proud. You simply cannot enjoy success in the same way if you’ve never felt failure. I love my job as much as I do because I know how unlikely it once looked, how bloody hard I worked for it, and how easily it can be taken away.
3. There are two types of loser
I have long since believed women (and men) can be divided into those who are broken by failure and those who make the best of it. A quick inventory of my closest girlfriends demonstrates that I can only truly be close to the latter type. All have messed up (rehab, work disasters, dissertations that got pissed up a student bar wall), made the wrong decisions to dire consequences (unprotected sex on day 11, choosing not to get contents insurance, an extra-marital affair) or just had really bad luck. But none of us has let it define us, we’ve all picked ourselves back up and vowed to do differently next time failure comes around – because we know it always will. Which reminds me…
2. The only true failure is to not learn from it
Didn’t get the results you needed? You need to think long and hard about your work ethic and seriousness about your life. Enjoy your summer then vow to start doing much better. Failure is the most powerful way to learn lessons, evaluate what it is you really do and don’t want and feel the incomparable sense of self confidence in knowing you can pick yourself up off the floor, out of tear-sodden pyjamas and back into the world, harder and stronger than before. There’s no use telling yourself never to fail, so see failure as an inevitable opportunity to make things right. It’s a crucial life skill.
4. Fear of failure is far more debilitating that failure itself
Trying to avoid failing stops us from succeeding, because no worthwhile success comes without risk. It’s invariably a case of the bigger the reward, the scarier the task. In denying ourselves the opportunity to fail, we’re actually stopping ourselves from experiencing the pure, undiluted joy of true success. To not take the plunge is the biggest failure of all because we only regret the things we didn’t do, not those we did.
5. Full time failures are really tedious company
There is no one duller than a person who quacks on about life having dealt them a cruel hand. Seriously, these people are impossibly draining and so comfortable at their own pity party that repeat failure is not only a forgone conclusion, but also a lazy way of never aiming for success. Don’t be that girl. In one year, my closest friend was made redundant, diagnosed with cancer, and bereaved when her partner was killed in a terrorist attack. And yet she still put herself directly in the line of failure to launch her own small business because otherwise, she wouldn’t be living. Some failure is inevitable, but it’s never the beginning and end of your story unless you allow it to be.
Sali's book, Pretty Honest (£22, 4th Estate) is available to pre-order now
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