Confessions of a Former Loser: How to Stop Feeling Like a Failure
On a daily basis, I get emails from people who feel like abject failures, but I know for a fact that they’re not.
Yes, there is such a thing as a real loser. But that’s not most people. Yet many of us feel this way.
I’ve noticed a trend in society lately. People feel helpless, worthless, useless.
How did this happen?
I’m all for a healthy level of dissatisfaction as motivation, but feeling like a failure is a lot different than simply trying and failing.
My job, if anything, is to let you know this fact.
You’re not a failure. You’re not a loser. I’m not saying that to placate you either. I mean it. Maybe you feel lost, but you can find your way back.
Take it from someone who knows from first-hand experience:
- I dropped out of school with 3 credits left to go for an internship. I never went back for my degree
- I once had a 0.0 GPA in college. I wasn’t even smart enough to drop out then. I just didn’t attend classes I was paying for
- I’ve been arrested. I was on felony probation for five years. I’ve spent multiple nights in jail
- At one point in my life, I legitimately didn’t leave the house except when I needed to buy drugs or wanted to get hammered
People look up to me now, which is always weird to me because I remember that loser version. If only they knew.
If I can change, you can change, but how?
Why You Feel Like a Failure
You can’t be a failure if you’re in your 20’s. Well, you can, but it’s really hard to mess your life up so bad at such a young age.
Yet I get tons of messages from young people who find themselves feeling like failures after such a short period of time in their life. Why?
We’ve been indoctrinated to measure ourselves against our peers.
Grades are nothing more than a benchmark, an arbitrary one at that, you can use to stack yourself up against your fellow members of society’s cult.
Kids are put under pressure to have their shit together when their brains aren’t even fully developed yet.
You see the madness in the news — Lori Loughlin facing decades in jail for bribing universities to let her kid in. All for “status.” Bullshit street cred.
Jesus Christ. Why so serious about our futures?
We live in the age of status, comparison, signaling, curating, filtering. You have to go to the best school, get the best grades, go on the best vacations, take the best pictures, and live the best life. Else you’re a nobody.
Writers like me add to the cesspool at times, too. So much talk about finding your purpose and passion. You’re under unnecessary pressure to know exactly what to do with your life. Right now. Or else.
This is a culture problem. The culture isn’t allowing us to be human beings.
But the best way to be your best self involves ignoring the culture and just…being yourself.
Here’s Everything That’s Good About You
First, let me start with this quote:
“We are quick to forget that just being alive is an extraordinary piece of good luck, a remote event, a chance occurrence of monstrous proportions.” — Nassim Taleb
It always grounds me when I read it.
Relax. Breathe. You’re lucky to even be here.
We’re so quick to forget that, you and I both.
How much of life do we fail to enjoy? All this pressure to succeed, keep up with the Jones’s, have the best-curated feeds. For what? We’re all lucky little atoms in the expanse of time. Blips on the radar. Soon dead. How can you even view yourself as a failure in that context?
You can’t. You can only view yourself as a failure when you take life too seriously and forget that you’re literally a cosmic miracle. You had a one in a bajillion chance to be born into a species that had a one in a bajillion chance of existing on a planet that had a one in a bajillion chance of sustaining life.
You kind of won already, don’t you think?
Ok. So that grounds you, momentarily. But that’s not enough. I know.
The inner critic comes rushing back from the recesses of your mind to the forefront just to tell you how inadequate you are. No pondering of the universe can solve that problem. So what then?
How do you really, genuinely, and tangibly stop feeling like a failure?
The Marathon Mentality
I remember it like it was yesterday. Pouring rain.
I had to walk a mile from the video store I worked at to the bank to drop off the nightly deposit. I had no car. I was 25 — an age where you’re a loser if you have no car.
“No mind,” I thought. I had taken that job, a manager working $10/hr at a video store, as a chance to no longer be a loser.
The universe would catch up to me at some point.
I’m walking. Headphones in. Listening to my favorite rapper, the late Nipsey Hussle. I had one song on repeat called 7 Days a Week. One lyric sticks out:
“Seize the opportunity, believe, and take control of it. Then get on your marathon and grind until it’s over with.”
I remember how indifferent I felt towards the rain — clothes and shoes totally soaked. I was going to walk there, walk back to my house, wake up, and get back on the grind the next day. I was on my marathon. One day, I’d be a winner.
I saved up $100 a check to buy a car from an auction for $2,500 (a car I still drive by the way). I drove that car out of town to a new job and a new life.
I no longer felt like a loser. So what helped me transition?
A few simple things:
- You must find the purest, purest, purest form of being fed up. Make it hurt. I literally screamed, “I’m not going to fucking live like this anymore!”
- At the same time, you can’t fall into a trap of beating yourself up. You create a standard for you to live by and feel like a winner. My bar was very low — be good at my $10/hr job and write articles after work. That was all I needed to feel worthy.
- After you find something to make yourself feel responsible and worthy, chip away at it day after day
The Magic Formula and “Secret to Success” We All Ignore
These are simple prescriptions. I know.
You want to know the key.
The wind that will lift you from the tides of loserdom and make you feel good about yourself. The magic.
There is no magic. The process of making yourself feel better about yourself is muddy and requires rolled-up sleeves. Elbow grease. No one wants to hear this, and few want to really tell it. So it goes. But I know the weight of what you feel and weight requires strength to lift.
I know what it’s like to feel totally paralyzed. To feel grief, real grief, over the mistakes you’ve made. The mistakes that seem to build a prison around your soul, preventing you from escaping to the future you want.
I escaped. I did read self-improvement books, take courses, went through all of the motions you find yourself going through. Repeat the information long enough, and it will stick, but ultimately, you’re the one who makes the change:
Well, I know it wasn’t you who held me down
Heaven knows it wasn’t you who set me free
So often times it happens that we live our lives in chains
And we never even know we have the key — The Eagles
You can free yourself. It will take time. It won’t be today, tomorrow, or the next day, but there will come a time where you look back at your old self and no longer feel like a failure. You’ll feel like that other version of you didn’t exist.
You’ll reinvent yourself.
From the Ashes You Will Rise
I’m big on symbolism, narratives, archetypes.
One of my favorites is that of the Phoenix, so much so I opened one of my books with it:
In many ancient societies, the Phoenix was a symbol of strength and rebirth.
It lived for hundreds of years at a time. When it started to feel weak, it would arrange a stake for itself and burst into flames.
After being consumed by the fire, the Phoenix rose from the ashes and started a new life.
In a way, you can be like the Phoenix.
You can start over and live a new life. You can let the fire consume the “old you,” and rise from the ashes again.
What’s done is done. The “failure” part of your life must genuinely become a different life. You kill that person.
You feel like a failure because you carry so much of the past with you. As much as you despise the past, you also cling to it because it’s familiar. You want to change, but you want to take your baggage with you on the journey. This strategy won’t work.
There’s no rule saying your past has to count. That’s what society tells you. Noise.
When you really change, you lose that sense of self, that centered base that keeps you in limbo, but feels comfortable nonetheless.
The good news? On the other side of death, of being a pile of ashes, is a brand new you. You can burn it all to the ground and start over. I’ve done it.
Moving from the esoteric to the pragmatic, let’s talk about some practical ways for you to stop feeling like a failure.
The Nuts and Bolts of Self-Improvement
The boring and banal tips for self-improvement are actually the best ones.
- 8 hours of sleep
- Exercising 3 times per week
- Reading 30 minutes per day
These activities help work from the outside in. When you’re improving the quality of your mind and body, it’s harder to feel like a failure.
I remember the year I read something like 50 books. I was still broke, but spending all my time learning didn’t make me feel like a loser. The opposite. I was on my way to something. I didn’t know what, but at least I was doing something.
That’s what you want. Motion. Momentum. There’s no self-help prescription that can literally lift you form the couch and transport you to the gym or open the pages of the book for you.
There is a gap between my words and your action where you’ll have to bring yourself to act. No one can crack that nut for you.
But on the other end of inertia and momentum, you’ll find freedom, sanity, and joy.
You’re not a failure. You’re a human being. Which, by definition, makes you adaptable, creative, and resilient. We’ve never failed as a species. We’re still here. Which means you’re filled with the DNA of people who found a way to keep humanity moving forward.
Act like it.
Ayodeji is the author of You 2.0 — Stop Feeling Stuck, Reinvent Yourself, and Become a Brand New You. Want a free copy of my first book? Get it here.