Only death comes as the end

Wednesday, March 6, 2013 Permalink

A few weeks ago I was talking to my life coach about failure. The conversation centred around the fact that we should recognise that our own perceptions may be a bit screwy: we may see something as a failure, when we should be celebrating the fact that we even attempted it in the first place; alternatively, we should be acknowledging positive aspects of the experience. Karen asked me to consider my feelings (as opposed to my thoughts!) when it comes to the notion of ‘failure’.

As usual, when it comes to separating thoughts from feelings, I struggled. “It’s the end,” I said. “I think of failure as being THE END. It’s like when the final credits appear at the end of the show.” 

As soon as I said it I realised that for me it’s still black and white. Pass vs fail.

I’m just back from a long weekend away, in my former hometown. My niece had contacted me a week or two ago asking if I’d take her to a competition she had to attend. She’s a very lovely 16 year old and into ballet and modelling and the like. Her mother had a commitment and her father even more inept than I when it comes to hair and makeup etc. Plus, they tend to frown on men in dressing rooms. Unsurprisingly.

Anyway, my mother tagged along for the trip and chance to catch up with her only granddaughter and the three of us travelled to the competition last Saturday.

My niece did very well – as usual. I was mostly worried that something I did would go wrong: that pins would fall out of her hair or zips would come undone. Etcetera. I also worried that my niece might be disappointed with her results if she didn’t do as well as she hoped and wouldn’t have her mother there to comfort her.

As the day progressed I pondered on how to console my niece or prepare her in the event she didn’t win something significant. I tried to make sure she realised that – judgements can be subjective. Even if you are better than others, you may not do as well as hoped. And… for many of us – no matter how hard we try – we may just be average. Or less-than-average.

My father used to always tell my brother and I that it was almost impossible to be the best at anything. “There’s always someone better,” he’d say. And he’d tell us, even if you were the best in something, sooner or later, someone would come along and knock you off that dais.

Despite my own perfectionist tendencies and fear of failure, I always feel bad for the underdog. My heart goes out to the chubby dancers who take a lesson per week, outshone by others – like my niece – who are far more professional. I find myself hoping they don’t realise what a vast chasm separates them from their fellow competitors. I try to envisage them leaving the stage with a huge grin, thinking they’ve done a fabulous job and their confidence barely dented when they don’t receive any prizes.

But… I guess that’s what competitions are all about. We may enter to gain confidence or practice performing or just because someone else wants us to, but ultimately there will be winners and losers those who do not win.

My mother and I agreed my niece did an excellent job on the weekend. But, like I said… one never knows, so we both tried to prep Miss Em in case the result wasn’t what she was hoping for. “As long as you tried your hardest,” I said. “As long as you had fun,” I said.

It occurred to me again that I’m never as generous with myself. Not winning or not excelling (or not getting a job if you apply for one) is akin to failure in my world. Which the sane part of me realises isn’t really the case.

Not everyone can win. Not everyone can be the best. As my dad said, there’ll usually be someone better. At least some of the time. We cannot be the best at everything. Or anything.

Not winning is not failing.

In this case it didn’t matter as my niece won the overall prize for the day and we had a very happy journey home through torrential rain!

Do you find yourself offering others advice you need to heed yourself?
Do you see failure as a stepping stone? Rather than the end?


  • Jo Tracey
    March 6, 2013

    As much as I know logically that I shouldn’t be, I’m embarrassed by failure. There, I said it. I only talk about the good, the successes & the result is that the me other people see isn’t the me that I see. I’m a long way from achieving balance on this one.

    • Debbish
      March 6, 2013

      It’s a hard one. The fact that I could be so moderate and generous with my niece (worried about her feelings and ensuring she wasn’t scarred in some way!) but not with myself – really hit me!

  • Jess
    March 6, 2013

    I am ok with certain kinds of failures and others not at all. I definitely wish I could bounce on with the day and not get disappointed. It is hard to watch someone else in competition though because it is totally out of your control. So nice of you to take her I bet she loved having you both there!

    • Debbish
      March 6, 2013

      I hadn’t thought of the ‘out of control’ aspect Jess. I know when I’ve accompanied my niece to ballet eisteddfods etc in the past (when her mum was there) I’ve felt nervous for her. Naturally I wouldn’t care if she stuffed up or did badly – her happiness is the most important thing to me – not the winning / losing bit. But.. just watching on can be very stressful!

  • Janine Fitzpatrick
    March 6, 2013

    Great post. You obviously have a lovely relationship with your niece. Watching children perform/compete is seriously stressful – it nearly kills me every time! I think we are much tougher on ourselves than we are with the children in our lives. I’ve always been a big believer in “having a go” win or lose at least you gave it a shot. However, as I get older I am finding that I am less and less happy with failing, bouncing back is harder. But nevertheless, I do keep on trying!

    • Debbish
      March 7, 2013

      Yes Janine, when my niece was little I think we were really quite close and she was the light of my life. Still is, but it’s different as they age, I’m sure. She’s busy with her own stuff.

      But… back to the post, I’m often surprised how resilient some kids are – particularly those I mention in the blog post… I kinda like that the kids in question have no idea that they’re not super-talented and happily perform as if they are. Wonder though down the track if they come back to earth with a thud.

      I like your focus on trying. I’m not quite there, but need to walk the talk a bit more!

  • Liz
    March 6, 2013

    I’m scared of failure too. Then I stop and realise that you’re so much more relatable when you fail 🙂

    • Debbish
      March 7, 2013

      Hee hee… perfect is boring I’m pretty sure. The thing I struggled to bring out in the post was that not-winning is not necessarily failing – though to some of us it is. I know my niece had a bit of a an idea what sort of placings were acceptable to her. I think she would have been okay with not-winning, but placing well was also important.

  • @Kanga_Rue
    March 6, 2013

    It’s easier to be more generous with others I think. Sometimes it’s obvious the help others need because you’ve been through a similar experience yourself. So I think that any failures can make for being a more empathetic person, who can help others by helping them uncover blockages to insight. Of course, this takes a lot of self reflection – without it, someone could just end up bitter. I think you’re definitely the former by the way!

    • Debbish
      March 7, 2013

      Hmmm…. I don’t know. Suspect I am a bit bitter and twisted. Fortunately I haven’t had a lot of losses or failures in my life (other than my weight, lack of relationship and no kids)… actually there are a few ‘failures’ and sometimes I am a bit bitter about those. Alas.

  • Char
    March 7, 2013

    In a lot of ways getting sick has been good for me. It allowed me to take my foot off the accelerator and lose my pride and expectations about how I should and can perform in races. I went from expecting PBs to just being happy to finish the race. So my perspective has changed – a run that I would have seen as a huge failure causing a week of feeling bad about myself is now a reason for celebration.

    • Debbish
      March 7, 2013

      A change in perspective can be an amazing thing Char!

  • Satu
    March 8, 2013

    I love this post too, Deb! (I’m reading your posts in the wrong order but I guess that doesn’t matter).

    I hope I would have learned to have more focus on fun and enjoyment earlier in my life. But I think I was raised very much the way you were, too much focus on details and performance. It robbed pleasure out of my life way too early because I was always worried I wouldn’t be good enough.

    I wonder if there would’ve been much you could have done in the case your niece hadn’t won. Maybe the only thing you could’ve done is to to let her be disappointed? For myself, I’m trying to learn to simply tolerate my difficult emotions better, not just try to “not feel them” because that rarely works anyway…

    • Debbish
      March 9, 2013

      Oh yes Satu… you often hear people say that we wrap kids in cotton wool nowadays and award them for just turning up. I suspect it’s a fine balance between encouraging kids to just ‘try’ things and have them thinking they’re infallible and deserving of anything and everything.

      I certainly didn’t do particularly well at ballet eisteddfods when I was a kid and it took me a long time to get serious about basketball. I really can’t recall how I coped with my failures (or lack of success as a kid). I think I just didn’t ever expect to do particularly well!

  • Neen
    March 12, 2013

    I’m brilliant at giving advice that I don’t follow myself! I always tell people that they can only do their best but my best? It’s never good enough!

    It’s a hard habit to change Deb. Failing at things feels humiliating. I guess ‘failing’ needs to be redefined.

    • Debbish
      March 12, 2013

      Yes… failing does not equal not-winning. And nor is it the end!

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