I believe many of you are aware of Elizabeth Day and her incredible podcast How to Fail, it is a series I have waxed lyrical about alongside her book under the same title. The basis of the podcast is Elizabeth, a journalist, Broadcaster and novelist interviewing a string of famous, influential guests about what they deem as their failures in life and how those failures have shaped them and helped them grow. The first few episodes I listened to I enjoyed but I couldn’t comprehend how recognising failures could help, wasn’t encouraging me to focus on my failures going to make me feel even more of a failure? Soon I began to realise that giving my failures space and dissecting the embarrassment, shame and guilt around them could be incredibly powerful and since I have devoured all her episodes and her book which I have found immeasurably helpful. I would go as far as saying The How to Fail podcast along with external influences in my life have been the main contributors towards my confidence growth in 2019 and a better understanding of who I am and where I want to go.
I want to share with you three parts of my life which I have always regarded as my biggest failures. Do not worry these do not scratch the surface on all of the mistakes and regrets I have made but I could only include three failures, those are the rules. So these are my three failures of my own – How to fail.
Failure 1. Allowing people to make me believe that not being married by 30 is a failure
I’ve never really considered being single was something to be ashamed of although maybe briefly In my early 20s, perhaps I did? I raced into relationships to get over the stigma of having been single for two years (TWO! I AM SCREAMING) even though I was only 22. Approaching 30 having been near single on or off for five years now it doesn’t feel like five years long enough. Don’t get me wrong (some) men are great. I enjoy their company, I love having someone who cares about me, who wants to spend time with me and to have someone who just gets me, but I get so much of this from my friendships female and male that I rarely (and for fucks sake, no I’m not lying when I say this) rarely care for a relationship. This has never in my eyes been viewed as a failure of mine or anyone else who is happily single, or just single whether they are happy or not.
What I do class as a failure of mine is allowing myself or even putting myself in the centre of my friends ‘Bridget Jones’ jokes and for not speaking up when people allow me or even push me to feel because of society’s benchmarks that I am failing as an adult.
I am annoyed at myself for not speaking up about how wonderful my life is, the laughter I experience daily from my friends, the trips I get to go on, the places I see, the knowledge that I can paint my bedroom pink one week and change it the next. I don’t need to spend time with people I don’t want to spend time with. I don’t have the stress relationships can bring. I can be completely selfish with my time. I would never want someone who is to be married to be made to believe they are a failure so I am angry at myself for allowing other people to make me feel this way.
The comments from well-wishers saying ‘you never know this could be your year to find someone to settle down with‘ or ‘all these weddings you are going to, you might meet Mr right’ and ‘you could be the one having kids in a few years‘. It angers me when I think that my choices in life to many are never regarded as a choice but as an undesired result. The notion that I have had no control over this outcome. My failure in all of this is smiling, nodding along, giving a short come back and brushing it off instead of defending my choices.
As I have grown older I have learned these comments are often built out of fear, fear from older generations that my life won’t turn out how they want it to and therefore I won’t be safe or the fear they somehow have failed me. At times it comes from a place of defence that if we are not all following the same path then there might actually be something not so perfect or right about their path and that doesn’t sit well with people either. It is easier to make someone feel bad about their choices than really evaluate their own. This failure has taught me to stand up for myself, to not be afraid to share how much I love my life and to understand we all have different paths we can take in life which can all be unique.
As Meg March says (can’t you tell I watched the film this week)
“Just Because My Dreams Are Different Than Yours, It Doesn’t Mean They’re Unimportant.”
Failure 2. Not trying harder at school
I was the epitome of average at school. I went to local small comprehensive schools where with the right teachers I thrived, with the wrong ones I fell into the depths of other student’s shadows. Too quiet to be noticed either way. By the time I went to the Grammar school, a school of what felt like 2000 students packed into four years I could hide, hide so much that I didn’t even need to go to classes and it could go unnoticed. I never tried at school, I did the minimum, I never revised, most of the time I didn’t listen and I completed school with little to no ambition and ok grades. This was in a time where being smart and studious were not cool and I was desperate to be cool. Once I got to 19 years old and figured out a little more about what I wanted to do, I left for University. Here I tried harder, I worked hard and I did well. I got internships, I got jobs I was rewarded with a good degree. Yet 11 years on since leaving school I still feel not trying hard enough in lessons with sports with people is one of my biggest failures. It has had a detrimental effect on how I viewed myself throughout my adult life. When someone said I was so knowledgable, intelligent, clever or I had said something right I was adamant that wasn’t me. I was the lazy 15-year-old girl who would rather create Myspace bulletins covering 15 questions of the day then work hard. I wasn’t this person they kept telling me I was. It dawned on me, embarrassingly late in life that those couple of years at school didn’t define me, they didn’t measure my intelligence, ability to learn or my skills in life. What it does highlight is an educational system I was lost in and yes perhaps some laziness on my behalf but come on the boys were hot, shipwrecked was on T4 and I believed everyone knowing about every minute of my day via Myspace and MSN was more important than my Business Studies homework (which I did a few times get a boy in my business class to do for me, still feel guilty about that now).
Not trying hard at school was not completely a failure. Yes, I could have worked harder, and pushed myself, yes I should have been more mature, responsible and future aware but I didn’t like school and there is nothing I can do to change that. The actual failure was holding onto this guilt for so long and not accepting that this isn’t the person I am now. This isn’t the person now who has a hunger to learn, to read, to always teach myself new skills. This isn’t the person who can start a business, have a job they love, sort a mortgage, buy a house, learn to love running, spinning and riding all at once. Being lazy at school was just my teenage years and yes I can regret them but the failure will always be holding on to the notion that the lazy teenager is still part of me because she is not.
Failure 3. Not moving away from home after University
Not having lived in London still haunts me as one of my biggest regret failures and I guess where I am lucky is I still have the chance to do this. I still have the opportunity to go off and live like a local in New York or Europe (not so easy now thanks to Brexit). Throughout my 20s after leaving university I felt regrouping back home, living with my parents for a few years was a failure and everyone could see what a loser I was for it.
At first, I didn’t. I was keen to be back with my home after 3 years in Cardiff with my group of friends, a 12 strong group of us still friends after university etc along with various other wonderful people I called my friends. I loved country life, the farm, walks in the countryside and no worries if the person who was following me was going to mug me for drugs. I secured a job in recruitment straight out of uni which wasn’t my dream but paid the bills (which I didn’t have because I was a 22-year-old semi brat living at home with my Dad) and I met some wonderful people at that job too. Not long after I bagged a job working in Events at Joules at 23-year I felt pretty lucky. I was in a job I dreamed of (and then actually bloody hated everything about it other than a few kind friends I met there), I had an ok boyfriend, he was funny at least and we had a good time together and I felt this is what post-uni life was about. The job I wanted, nice car, boyfriend, good social life and my horses, I had no reason to move to London. Honestly other than loving the city visits we had, London hadn’t really crossed my mind. I was happy in this easy, bubble where I was saving all my money to holiday three times a year in Puerto Banus and other places with my holiday bud Rosie.
Now at the grand old age of 29, I see moving back home, creating a comfort zone and a security blanket of an extra 2 years of no rent and free food a failure.
By 25 I had bought my first house and stepped into the life of bin rotas and mortgages, something I didn’t give myself credit for. At 25 I felt so far behind my friends joining the housing ladder, 5 years on and a house with equity and a new kitchen I arranged myself I realise that not going to London has at least benefitted me in one way or another. I had regarded my lack of city adventure as a failure for years. A failure I am beginning to wrap my head around. I know there is plenty of opportunities for me to change this. I can move to New York, London, Paris. I can live like a local in Australia, New Zealand or Bali if I wish. Recognising this failure made me evaluate perhaps I wasn’t quite ready to lose my security blanket of cheap living, my horses and my reliable friends, and maybe I won’t want to ever leave these things behind but I now understand that is ok because it was right for that period in my life and some wonderful opportunities have grown from that.
By staying at home it didn’t make me weak, unambitious or boring it was what I wanted at the time. I can now see that If I have a strong urge believing those things are no longer serving me it is probably time to pack up my bags and make a move. If that move takes me 10 years longer than others that is fine, I have my house, some wonderful memories and some great pets to soften the blow. If it never comes then I know it was just a dream I didn’t act on and maybe that was all it needed to be. Either way, I know I am going to be ok wherever I end up.