It’s okay to fail.
Wise and successful people tell us we learn through making mistakes and trying again. Entrepreneurs, musicians, social workers, philanthropists, artists all gave it a go and, after years of trial and error and disasters, with lots of luck, they succeeded.
if at first you don’t succeed, that’s okay
The sub-text of a women’s business course I attended some twenty years ago was, “If a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly”. We were to stop being perfectionists and enjoy the process. If at first you don’t succeed, that’s okay, have another go if you want to, or do something else.
I never believed it. I never understood why someone would choose to fail, or risk activities they aren’t competent in, or do things badly when they could easily do them well. So there are many things I haven’t done because I probably wouldn’t be good at them, and things I haven’t tried because I couldn’t do them perfectly, or too many others are doing the same thing—probably better… Roller-blading, playing mah-jong, applying for a team leader job, submitting my poetry for publication, joining Toastmasters’—the list of things I’d rather not fail at goes on.
because I can’t write like Barbara Trapido
A couple of times I’ve started writing a novel but without any real commitment—in part because I can’t write like Barbara Trapido or Kerry Greenwood or Terry Pratchett, and I’d rather not produce an inferior book. I worry, would anyone want to read what I have to say? Do I have anything to say? I don’t know about characterisation and plotting. And I only drifted into it—it was going to be a short story, and I just kept writing. But I don’t like reading short stories, so perhaps I shouldn’t try to write them, either…
Psychotherapist and creative coach Eric Maisel works with artists and writers. I recently read his advice in The Writer magazine:
Believe you have something to say. Consciously decide that you and your writing matter. Say, ‘I intend to matter’, or better yet, ‘I matter’, as many times a day as you can. It would be nice if you also believed that you matter, but say that you do whether you believe it or not. Eventually you’ll believe it.
This is how I perceive faith: Say that you do [or are] whether you believe it or not. Eventually you’ll believe it.
Faith, for me, is “living as if”.
Some years ago, a group of friends were talking about de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats theory, how useful it might be, whether it works at work, and what colour of hat each of us identified with. I remarked jokingly that I’d always wear the black hat; I guess I was secretly hoping to be contradicted. Instead, when a close friend said, “Yes, you always do”, the others looked a bit uncomfortable but no-one disagreed.
black hat, black dog
Finally I realised how negative I’d become, how predictable, apathetic and pessimistic. It took a few years of reading and therapy and positive affirmations to start thinking of myself as a cheerful, positive person; as someone who, despite the realities we construct and perceive, tries to live as if. I’ve also learned that the gloom and ennui I struggled with for years is a health issue, with a name and effective treatment, if no cure: “depression—there is a way through it”.
At last I’ve realised I do have something to say, that comparing myself unfavourably with other writers diminishes the value I place on my work and myself, and that I don’t need to write novels or short stories: there are other forms that suit my style.
For you it might be playing a musical instrument, doing a course of study, risking your heart in a relationship, travelling or working or any one of the millions of possibilities presented by an abundant universe.
live as if the glass is brimming over
Naturally cynical, I never-the-less try live as if the world is beautiful and the glass is not just full but brimming over and people are well-meaning and good will always win. I try to think and speak the best about most people and things, sometimes despite the evidence.
So I’m writing this in faith:
- as if you will enjoy reading what I have to say;
- as if my ideas and reflections and experiences are worth sharing;
- as if the universe is big and rich and abundant enough for me and for everyone to have the success and happiness they want;
- as if I don’t have to deserve it, to be happy and successful and loved.
back to failure
Which brings me back to failure. Over the years I’ve thought positively and repeated affirmations and formulated Words of Power and read inspiring books; meditated and celebrated and shared with others. All these things have helped. Friends, communities of faith and casual acquaintances have supported me in moving from self-doubt to faith.
I can now let myself be loved as well as loving. I’ve learned to attract the resources I need and I’m getting used to greater financial security. I have confidence in my parenting and, now my daughter’s an adult, mostly forgive myself for past ignorance and the times I got it wrong.
I’ve learned to enjoy the process almost as much as the outcome. But I’m still having trouble with failure, with giving up.
cycles of wellbeing and difficulty
Last year , within six months, I left what I thought would be two wonderful jobs, the first less than half-way through the contract, the second within a month, because I couldn’t handle the unpredictability and chaos they involved.
It’s taken months to realise I was trying to do too much, that I’d added unnecessary tasks—things I really believed should be done—to an already overloaded job description. At last it’s sinking in that my own expectations as much as other people’s frazzled me; that despite the complainers and critics and the downright rudeness of a few, most people didn’t expect perfection. That perhaps I could have asked for different kinds of help from different people, rather than trying to do it all flawlessly and ending up exhausted and frustrated, back in the greyness of despair and a profound loss of confidence.
With help, I’m realising there are cycles of wellbeing and difficulty in all things—that even our most positive life events involve grief for things that have changed and need to be let go; that we don’t need to feel guilty for not meeting other people’s expectations—or our own.
fail without being a failure
At different times in our lives, we need and can cope with different things.
Finally I’m realising it’s inevitable and okay to learn the same lessons over and over. Learning to live as if I can fail without being a failure. Writing as if these words might help you live in faith, too.
Slowly, painfully, I’m learning—again—to act and think “as if”. This time, as if I’m an empathetic, effective and valuable employee. As if the world won’t end if some things don’t get done. As if I deserve some time out, and work-life balance isn’t a buzz phrase but a possible reality.
she talked to me of grace
As the wonderful manager of that second short-lived job explained to me, “It’s about your health, not your performance.” She talked to me of grace, and helped me leave with self-respect, ensuring I received the full sick pay accrued during my brief employment. It’s okay to ease up, to find fulfilment and identity from things other than work—more ephemeral, creative things maybe.
So I’m living in faith, in grace.
Every day, affirming that “I matter”, and knowing eventually I’ll believe it.
 “Focus on your writing” in The Writer magazine [date unknown]. See also A Writer’s Paris: A guided journey for the creative soul by Eric Maisel. October 2005, Writer’s Digest Books. ISBN: 1582973598
 Six Thinking Hats, by De Bono Edward, 1987 Penguin Books Ltd, ISBN 0140091300. ‘Six Thinking Hats’ is a powerful technique that helps you look at important decisions from a number of different perspectives. It helps you make better decisions by forcing you to move outside your habitual ways of thinking www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTED_07.htm