A Fear of Failure: Time to Prevail Rather Than Fail

Redefining Failure

I am writing this post from the position of being a writer and a blogger. However, I feel that this will be relevant to everyone. Why? Because we all have something in our past that we think we failed at. We can all, if asked to do so, readily recall at least one apparent ‘failure’.

‘Failure’ is an emotive word. It conjures up negative associations of not making it, being deficient, being lesser than, or in the most obvious sense, failing at something.

The Oxford Dictionary defines failure as:

Lack of success

An unsuccessful person or thing

A lack of or deficiency of a desired quality

A sudden cessation of power

Fear of failure - failed personWow, just reading that and considering my many failures makes me feel incredibly gloomy and frankly like a crap excuse for a human being. How about you?

How about if ‘failure’ is not always such a negative thing?

I’m not here to patronise you with sunshiny claptrap. I like to keep it real. When someone tells me to ‘Turn that frown upside down’ I wonder if the frown would look a little different on their face if I smashed it in. Metaphorically of course; I’m a writer, not a fighter.

Maybe it’s time to re-define how we view and assimilate ‘failure’. Maybe this will help you, maybe not. All I know is I need it. It’s about time all these failures were booted up the backside.

My Failures

I’ll show you mine first. Failures that is, pervy people…

Some of my failures, abridged so you don’t lose the will to live reading the list and I don’t lose the will to live because they’re here in an extensive list to remind me:

  • I did not go to university when I finished my ‘A’ levels like most of my fellow students did.
  • I had about a trillion and one crappy jobs throughout my twenties and thirties, doing things that were way below my level of education and skills set.
  • I gave up teaching when I previously thought it was going to be my career for life.
  • I didn’t get married until I was 40.
  • I didn’t start writing until I was 40.

There they are, in all their failure glory. So now it’s time to ask a question…

Have I Failed or Prevailed?

Fear of failure - statueThis is a question I think we should all ask ourselves when we are reflecting upon our apparent failures, ‘Have I failed or prevailed?’

Asking yourself this will probably save you a lot of money in commiseration gin, expensive therapy, and obesity from all that comfort eating.

So, what happens if I look at my failures in a different light of how I have prevailed rather than failed?

How I apparently failed: I did not go to university when I finished my ‘A’ levels like most fellow students did.

How I prevailed: I wasn’t ready for more education after being in it for 14 years or so. I wanted to go and dip my toes into the bad old world of work.

I worked, I learnt a lot about how bloody strange people can be when they’re getting annoyed about the most insignificant things (retail and customer service will do that to you) and I did not become a dope-smoking dropout.

Oh, and I went to university at the age of 25, ready to rock the halls of education in a more mature style. I prevailed.

How I apparently failed: I had about a trillion and one crappy jobs throughout my twenties and thirties.

How I prevailed: There were some truly awful ones: cleaning Armageddon explosion type toilets, dealing with a boss who was a sexual discrimination case that should have happened, and a boss who wouldn’t let me get up from my chair unless I raised my hand to ask permission.

Yep, there were some shite jobs but every single one of them taught me something; about human nature, dealing with idiots, how I can multitask, that I’m not a snob who thinks certain tasks are beneath her, how I work in a team and alone, and how I am great at not tearing cockwombles a new one. I prevailed.

How I apparently failed: I gave up teaching after five years when I thought it was going to be my career for life.

How I prevailed: I had no choice. I got severe depression due to the delayed grief that came in like Miley Cyrus’ wrecking ball. My wrecking ball didn’t require skimpy undies and seductively sucking my fingers whilst gleefully swinging away though.

My wrecking ball depression look consisted of stale PJs, way beyond bed head, and a vacant stare. That bastard wrecking ball also destroyed my teaching career.

Confession time: it is only within the last few years that I’ve reconciled with this not being my failure. I now see that being brave enough to hand in my notice rather than keep pushing myself through is one of the strongest moves I have ever made. I don’t have that career but it doesn’t define me. I learned to move on. I prevailed.

How I apparently failed: I didn’t get married until I was 40.

How I prevailed: There were many wilderness years when I was collecting cobwebs sitting sobbing in a corner, waiting for Mr Right to come along. I call bullshit on that. I lived, I laughed, I cried, I had experiences and made memories.

Then he came into my life and we got hitched. He was more than worth the wait. I prevailed in living whilst he took his own sweet time showing up.

How I apparently failed: I didn’t start writing until I was 40.

How I prevailed: I could have started so much earlier. I was the scary precocious child who had a reading and writing age of a teenager when she was in primary school. I wrote stories and often had my nose in a book.

Fear of failure - light on failureThen I stopped due to an English teacher who crushed my dream via cheeseburger. Read the sad and sorry tale here: Crushed by a Cheeseburger

No writing for decades and then BAM! I just started one day and that was that. It sounds like a Road to Damascus moment. It really isn’t as miraculous as that. I probably always was writing in my own way, even if it was a friend’s wedding poem or a speech for work. It was all writing.

I’m now in my 40s and I’m just getting warmed up. I was made to believe at 11 years old that I shouldn’t be writing but I prevailed.

Now that you know nearly everything about my life apart from my dress size (none of your bloody business by the way), let’s explain why I wrote this mini memoir.

Can you see that I’m learning that for every failure I didn’t long-term fail? I prevailed. Maybe you can look back at your failures now and do the same.

I’m no life coach and I initially fell to pieces on nearly all of the aforementioned occasions of failure. I thought the world was ending, that I was a failure and that I should be wiped off the planet.

Sometimes this was funny and resulted in too many cheeky shandies along with drunken shenanigans. There will be no inebriated confessions from me, unless you’re buying…

There were also times of absolute despair. Failure can deal the most crushing of blows. Miley, that wrecking ball just isn’t the sexy tool you want us to believe it is. It bloody hurts when it hits. I guess the art is learning, like she did, to get on the thing rather than let it swing at you.

Failure takes time to become something you realise that you prevailed through.
My twenty-something self would be having a hissy fit about how she had allowed herself to be treated like a naughty schoolkid when she had to raise her hand to ask her boss if she could have a piddle. She felt like a failure for not standing up for herself.

My current self knows I had to toe the line and I was lacking in confidence. My current self would tell that female version of Hitler she could shove her job up her derriere. I would say ‘arse’ but I am a wordsmith nowadays.

Failures are Fuelled by Regrets

Fear of failure - sitting by a lakeFailures remain failures when they are animated by the rocket fuel named ‘Regret’. I am not judging those of you who have imbibed this potent mixture because I am swallowing it by the gallon right now.

I know how failing can make you feel regret for what you lost. When I stopped writing due to depression, I felt like a failure every single day. I missed writing but I just could not do it. I could barely brush my teeth let alone stir up my imagination.

I am well into recovery now and… writing fiction is still hard.

I wish I could tell you a fairy story where the Princess was trapped in the tower of Badness until the day she was set free to run off with the handsome Prince called Writing. I’m still trying to grab hold of him, metaphorically of course, dear Husband.

I am working on getting over this hangover from consuming too much regret. I find myself regretting all that time spent not writing to the point where it can render me unable to write now. Sounds stupid right? I know this. I am working on it.

I have realised that I am the one fuelling future failure via regret. I write a little every now and again and I call that success. It all adds up.

Maybe you are in a similar place with regrets holding you back from progressing in an area of your life. Let’s make a pact, eh?

How about every day we tell each regret that creeps in to either: do one/ f**k off/politely leave/ kiss my arse. Choose the phrasing that best suits your level of being offensive.

Maybe after verbally putting those gitty little regrets down, feeling like a failure will no longer be an option.

Only You Can Decide if it’s a Failure, No-one Else Has the Right

Here’s a revelation; your apparent ‘failures’ are often not viewed by others as failures at all.

We are our own biggest critics. I guarantee that if you sat down with a good friend or a loved one who has known you for years and you recounted an event from your past that you felt like a failure for, they would probably view it differently.

Don’t be surprised if they tell you how amazing you are for getting through it or detailing how you faced it and moved on. Remember, prevail not fail?

Subjectivity is a dickhead. It gets us into so much trouble: on the internet, in conversation, and when dwelling upon our ‘failures’.

Subjectivity is a narrow-minded, sniping, whiney teenage girl who thinks that the world revolves around her. Don’t be that girl.

Kick failure-focused subjectivity in the baby-maker and tell it that it really needs to grow up and stop bombarding us with life crap on Instagram.

Fear of Failure: Past Failures Can Often Make Us Afraid

So here we all are in this present moment. Are you afraid? Is there a particular failure that’s holding you back? The first step is knowing that’s happening.

Fear of failure - climbingI’m no therapist. You may need more than just this post to sort things out. I’m not qualified to do that and I’m no blaggy blogger who is going to pretend that I am.

All I can say to you, my friend, is that failure is as failure does.

Failure is defined by a sense of failure. It is a myth until we make it real. Failure is the imaginary monster under the bed until we drag it out and recreate it into the darkness of self-doubt and regret we can almost touch. We make the monster real.

Never call yourself a failure. You are not yours or others’ choices. You are you, right now, and not a failure.

Failure is a past tense word in my dictionary. Let it stay there. Redefine it. Let it become prevail rather than fail.

You, I repeat, are not a failure. Now don’t make me come round there and have to tell you in person. It’ll cost you a fortune in Dairy Milk.

About Lisa Sell

Lisa Sell is a fiction writer. When she's not wrestling with words she can be found showing the love for chocolate, cheese, coffee, books, the cats, and the husband. Perhaps not in that order.

16 comments on “A Fear of Failure: Time to Prevail Rather Than Fail

  1. I LOVE THIS. Like you – like most of us, I imagine – I have so many events in my life that I look back on and see as failures. I have, over the years, learned to be more forgiving with myself, and to understand that these things were part of bringing me to where I am now. I try to see them as just another part of my growth, that without them I wouldn’t be who I am, that I wouldn’t have learned things that I had to learn. But there are still plenty of days where they feel like big, stinking, ugly failures.

    I’m going to go swear at them now.

    1. Thank you for highlighting what i was trying to get across; failures are still there, we still feel them and they do occasionally tear their ugly heads but we can learn from them and recognise them. Thank you also for commenting and helping me to see more about what failure means.

  2. Lisa, you are amazing and I want to be as cool and brave as you are. 🙂 Thank you for this post! I need to tell my failures and regrets to f*** off, I spend too much time paralyzed by them.

    1. Anna I’m really not always as brave as I may seem. Just like you my failures threaten to paralyse me too. All i can do is write the hell out of them and swear at them too! Let’s have a good old swear together!

      Thank you so much for your lovely words and for sharing hiw failure affects you. I needed this. I hope you keep on keeping on.

  3. THIS. On point like no other. This was so well written and what SO many of us need to think about in our own lives. I love this. Thank you so much for sharing such deep, personal things.

  4. Thank you for this. I really love the way you write. I think it is good that you understand what your failures are and try to overcome them. I also believe a depression makes you stronger and you see the world and your life differently. because of that I understand that only me can live the life I want and overcome something if I want to. It is no perfect way to live your life. I think it is sad that society sort of expect you to have a career and get married etc. I think failures makes it a big failure if you feel it is and if you let it stop you.


    1. Thank you so much for such an encouraging comment Vibeke! I absolutely agree that society can make us feel like failures for not adhering to norms. We’re all different with our own individual dreams and aspirations.

  5. Lisa,

    This was incredibly timely for me. I have been “drunk” on regret lately and that hangover is a bitch. Prevail not fail…So true that we see our apparent failures so differently than others do. We’d never let our friends or kids look at themselves that way. Rather than see ourselves for working hard through life’s shit storms and thinking we didn’t measure up, why not realize we are who we are now because of those wrecking balls. We rode them and we’re still standing. 🙂

    1. Laurie, you’re speaking right to my heart. Regret is a bitch and the hangover unfortunately lasts more than a day. I hope yours dissipates in time.

      I totally agree with you about how we would never allow others close to us to name themselves as failures. My heart breaks every time I hear a loved one doing themselves down. We really need to cut ourselves some slack and understand we deserve to treat ourselves better too.

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting.

  6. I LOVE this article! One of the life-long memories I have to this day was failing a job interview as a college senior. I interviewed for a job with a major corporation. All went well until they got to the last question…It was one of those “trick” questions like “Is the glass half full or half empty…”, and the question had to do with describing my failure. Well, my mind just didn’t process things in terms of failure, and for the life of me, I couldn’t answer the question; at least not in the way the interviewers were expecting (two men, dark boring, buttoned-up suits, looking like they never had a fun moment their entire lives!). I was devastated that I had failed miserably, and missed out on the job, but as I grew older and gained some life-experience, I look back and am so very glad I did. Thanks for sharing!

    1. There’s a certain irony in ‘failing’ because you couldn’t describe failure how they expected! Another great example of how prevailing usually pays off.

      Thanks so much for sharing a d your positive feedback Kimberly.

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