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?