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How To Process Your Failures so They Don’t Become Regrets.

We often regret our failures, but maybe we should strive to fail our regrets.

Photo by Conner Baker on Unsplash

When I began to write this story, I immediately remembered what I consider one of my biggest failures.

It was Halloween. My son was in fourth grade, and my daughter was in second.

Halloween always presented an opportunity for me to show off my sewing skills by making my kids Halloween costumes.

That year, the Power Rangers reigned supreme as inspiration for dress-up. JoAnns supplied the pattern, yards of white and green felt, and gold lamé. It wasn’t easy, but I made a pretty amazing Green Ranger costume for my son. I liked the felt because it was easy to work with and provided warmth. After all, October nights in New England tend to be chilly, even cold.

I thought my daughter might want to be the Pink Ranger, but instead, we (I?) came up with the idea for her to be a Christmas tree! Imagine the tiny figure shuffling down the street with a gold star atop a forest green cone. Her little arms extended out the side seams of a wider wedge.

Because of my sewing business and some experience making puppets, I knew a combination of ½" foam and a layer of stretch velour would be the perfect combination to create a flexible but sturdy shape. I added several layers of gathered green tulle. And finally, I stitched on an assortment of 2" pompoms, and of course, I had to make the gold star out of the gold scraps from the gold lame.

The same year, Judy, the school secretary at their elementary school, hired me to make a costume for her. Judy is a tall woman who had acquired an affinity for giraffes because she appreciated their height and long necks. She had looked for a giraffe costume for years, and when she learned of my skills and my sewing business, she asked me if I would consider making her a long-necked spotted outfit.

Of course, I said ‘Yes.’ And then, I started looking for appropriate fabric. And a pattern. As it turns out, the pattern for a long-necked head that covers the face and extends high above the wearer’s head did not exist. The popular leopard spots and tiger stripes (did someone say animal print?) are much more common than the patchwork pattern of a giraffe’s coat.

But never one to shy away from a challenge, and with my background in flat pattern design, I set about drafting a pattern. Once made from an amber-colored micro-fleece, I painted irregularly shaped oblong spots.

Thinking back on Judy’s costume, I’m very proud of the creation. Worth far more than the $60 she paid me to make the outfit. But it was almost three decades ago. How much did we pay for gas back then?

At this point, you’re probably wondering, so what’s the failure? What is my regret?

The school always held a parade and an assembly for the kids to show off their costumes — and probably to blow off some pent-up sugar energy — on October 31st.

Of course, Judy wore her costume to school too.

The year was 1996, long before our phones became cameras. I don’t think any of us had a cell phone. (The dark ages, right?)

But I had thought ahead and brought my Canon Rebel camera. The first of many SLRs, but this one required 35 mm film.

As the kids assembled in the cafetorium, I pulled my daughter aside to snap a photo with the secretary.

But my little Christmas tree resisted. She started to cry. Why?

I got the photo, and everyone returned to their groups. And finally, we all went home to prepare for our Trick or Treat adventures.

“Why didn’t you want your picture taken?” I asked.

“Because we were going to sing ‘Counting with Dracula.’ And I liked that song.” And as a second grader, this would be her final time to sing the song with the music teacher, Mrs. D’Ambrosio, with the entire school.

And what did I get out of this? A photo of a tiny, sad second grader alongside a seven-foot-tall giraffe.

The snapshot remains a reminder of my failure to listen to my seven-year-old. Had I waited ten minutes, everyone would have been happy.

I wrote an article about this mishap years later in our local newspaper. When I mentioned my failure to my daughter, she didn’t remember any of it.

When you think about your failures, they will likely range from minuscule to enormous. Some life-changing. Some lasting seconds.

Often, we ruminate on our failures. We regret what we did and what we didn’t do.

But we cannot change the past.

Try this:

Write a letter to your private self-apologizing for your biggest failure. Detail the time, place, and people involved. Tell the story: the beginning, the middle, the ending.

Then, fold that paper, and stuff it into an envelope. Seal it up. Address it to “My private self.” Put it aside for a day. No more. It’s not that important. Place it somewhere where your private self dwells.

The next day, pick up the envelope and rip it in half. Give the moment no further attention. It’s gone. Delete this moment from your memory file.

Put aside your failure for the very last time. Let it go.

You’ve learned your lesson.

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B. Morey Stockwell, PhD

B. Morey Stockwell, PhD


I’m a writer who writes about writing… and other topics that bring me joy. Find tips and strategies to enhance your creativity at