A Study in Failure

The first stage of failure is grief — the first stage of many things.

Recent events have forced me to aggressively examine the idea of failure — what it is, what it means, and what I can do about it.

Failure is a concept that has been foreign to me for the vast majority of my life, for varying reasons. The first reason is that I was a special snowflake of a teenager that never had to try in anything to be good at it. The second reason is that I spent many years — too many — in a deep depression. It’s weird, in a sense, and perhaps an airbag of my brain, that the concept of failure was foreign to me in such a state.

Where there is no hope, no expectation of the self, there can be no failure.

In an ironic turn of events, when my life became better and I decided to start trying at things again, this is when failure walked back into my life. Failure dropped his huge suitcase on the floor, cracking his knuckles before flopping on my bed like a huge slob, demanding all the blankets, and his putrid smell lingered.

For failure to exist in my mind, there needs to be an expectation.

That is, for example, “I am x, so if I do y and try to obtain z, I will receive it.”

It is when you don’t receive what it is you feel you deserve that the sense of failure occurs.

The first stage of failure — grief — is when all logical thought escapes me. In the most recent case, I lay on my bed, my door shut, and cried. It was soft, save for the one time I completely lost control and sobbed for about five minutes. I didn’t eat.

But I did sleep. Oh, how I slept. Sleep may be the place where I am a viking, but it is also the place where I have no feeling. My brain was silenced. Sleep is the escape of the broken, and I stayed in that place as often as I could over a few days.

However, I have known darkness. This event that caused me to feel so badly, it didn’t even come close to comparing to how desperate, alone and lost I have felt in the past.

So like a shark I surfaced and decided that, in order to learn from this experience, I needed to analyse.

I don’t know how you can emulate that in your own life — I mean, if you want to learn something, and that is why you’re here — but I suggest watching a 24-hour news channel for a day or two and realising the fact that you are not in a war or dead far outweighs your grief.

All experiences, good or bad, are opportunities to learn. You may learn a small thing or a big thing, about yourself or others, but you will always learn a thing.

I learned that I am hard on myself — far harder on myself than anyone else in my life. In fact, everyone is my life is super nice to me. I am fucking horrible to myself. I need to not do that. Pushing myself is good, but there’s a difference between pushing myself and psychologically whipping my own back like the crazy priest dude in The DaVinci Code.

I learned that I should not dismiss constructive criticism because it upsets me, or because the criticised behaviour has reasons that are misunderstood or not known. In this case, the criticism was heavily weighed on my lack of confidence. I can’t very well say, “Hey, man, I was confident as fuck before I was in this abusive relationship which ended in my being stalked and a guy being arrested. IT EXISTS I’M WORKING ON IT IT’S THERE I’M FIXING IT IT’S NOT A LACK OF CONFIDENCE IT’S A LACK OF ASSERTION THEY’RE DIFFERENT THINGS.”

I can’t say that because a) it doesn’t change how I am now, and b) it doesn’t change the outcome of the thing. I know I am in the middle of a process to getting back to Full Amelia Brain. Do I think that affects how I would function in, say, for the sake of argument, a job? No. In the context of a job, I am a relentless tiger. Out of that context, I am a stammering idiot, because confrontation in unfamiliar contexts turns me idiotic.

So, if constructive, well-meaning criticism hurts, it doesn’t mean we dismiss it. It means we take it through the filter of logic and work out how to apply ourselves to make ourselves better. I learned if I feel myself shrinking under aggressive pressure, I need to recognise that happening in my brain, and tell myself, “You are fucking worth it. You have done the work. You have gotten this far. Fake it until you feel it for real.”

This is a lot of navel-gazing, I know.

But there’s a point.

There will always be people who will tell you that you are not good enough, that you are lacking something required in order for you to get to something you would like. They will range from flat-out crazies who hate you, abuse you and tell you that you will never be good enough, that you’re a joke, to people who very kindly pat your head and tell you “just not this time.”

Life is full of people telling you that you will not make it.

The only failure — the only true, real failure — is giving up. When you give up on yourself, your health, the things you love, that is when you’ve done fucked up, son. If you don’t get something you want, forgive yourself, because it is only in that forgiveness that you will learn the lesson you’re supposed to.

Build yourself, your brain, your heart and your lungs, and try opening some doors. If none of those doors open, go find some more.

And if you can’t find more, fucking build your own.

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