On Why You’re Not A Failure

failure

I’d like to devote this post to my mum, who, for all her good wishes, needs to stop thinking/telling me that I’m a failure. And this too is for anyone reading who thinks they might be. The short of it? You’re not.

Life isn’t all about passing one thing and then moving onto another, up and up until you reach your main goal (owning a business, having a family, publishing a novel, or whatever). Life isn’t start at point A and move at a consistent pace on a straight road and finish at Z and boom you’re done. As I talked about in the previous post, only we have the authority and ability to make choices about what we should or shouldn’t be doing. Some folks think spending hours writing a blog which makes no profit is a waste of time. They say that spending money on acting classes or a 6 month trip to USA or a degree in Ancient Latin Literature or any other pursuit which you do for the sheer joy and passion of it, is unproductive. Unproductive to whom exactly?!

Yesterday I read a great article by a guy called Mark Manson. The bit which stuck with me was thinking about the things you used to love to do as an 8-year-old and the fact you don’t do them anymore and trying to explain to your 8-year-old self why you don’t do them. “Why don’t you watch Art Attack anymore and make loads of cool things out of paper or card or whatever materials you have lying around and paint?”, my 8-year-old self would ask. “Because the things I made were a bunch of crap, and you can’t make any money doing that.” – As Mark says, that 8-year-old version of myself would cry! “Why don’t you take your bicycle out anymore and play in the forests and not come back until it’s dark?”, “Because there’s no time for fooling around, I’m busy being productive!”.

When exactly did doing stuff for the fun of it suddenly turn into doing something only because it’s productive, valuable. When did using time to make art or write short stories or be out in nature or whatever, go from productive to a stimulating childhood, to impractical, to worthless, to idleness in adult life?

The funny thing is that people forget that all famous artists, writers, actors, all journalists, world travellers, fashion designers, archaeologists, History professors, £180k-per-week earning footballers, all musicians, chefs, Olympic gold medallists, martial art instructors, even the person who designed your bloody duvet cover- all did these apparently ‘silly’, ‘useless’ activities in adulthood and now it’s their profession. How is that an idle use of time, exactly?

Unfortunately then, if we aren’t moving up this straight, progressive road which other people think we should be; we’re failing. If we’re day-dreaming about opening up a B&B in France, we’re laughed at- “You hate French food!” they jeer. If we want to sell our paintings, we just get slapped in the face, “-Sigh- I thought you’d finally given up that pipe dream?!”.

We’re all taught in our respective countries to behave in ways that are acceptable to society. Mainstream. Conventional. Do this to get that. Always move forwards. Knuckle down. Work harder. Bliss is waiting for you at the end. What I’ve realised is that the progression of life is very, very different.

Those famous artists, writers, footballers, professors, for all I know they were just like me at 18. Working in a crappy fast food chain. The only differences are the choices we all make. While I was forcing a smile and saying “Any thing else for you today?” to endless customers, I wasn’t at all thinking about 21 year old me learning how to dive in The Maldives or teaching English in Italy or even sitting here now writing on my blog. It’s quite possible that the 40 something year old famous actor was working in insurance in their 20’s until one day a choice they made took them down a different path.

Life is a 100 billion trillion (probably more) paths. Some are short, like that crappy boyfriend I once had, others are long and emotional and you feel like it’s never going to end. The paths go up and down and sometimes even in circles. So what if you’re working in the local supermarket right now? I am myself. Am I failure? No, I’m working. It’s not my calling or anything, but I’m young and I have time and I’m saving up a bit. Yes, mother, I quit university (twice), why do you keep reminding me every time I see you? Yes, I haven’t always stuck at one thing. Sticking at one thing sucks!

There are endless opportunities for all of us. Let’s take a girl called Betsey. Betsey is fantastic at drawing. She decided to work on self-publishing one of those colouring books for adults. After graduating university, she worked like a mule at a busy restaurant to pay for a trip to USA to meet her boyfriend. So not only was she wasting time with drawing- as if anyone ever made money from drawing!- She was also wasting more time not climbing the career ladder but going somewhere which possessed no use to her with a bloke who she’d probably break up with in a few weeks. Well, suck on this, parents, the bloke proposed to her, her visa was accepted, she’s moving to America and taking her drawings with her. And when you notice it displayed in bookshop windows, have a little think about who is the real failure, here.

Let’s take a guy this time, Alex, working his ass off in London. Alex adores what he does but it doesn’t stop him dreaming of New York, even Hollywood! Why not?! Nothing can stop him. He’s always doing mini projects here and there, a bit of film critique, a bit of acting, a bit of travel. If he were to give up his very good job this second and go searching for something else, is he a failure? He could be the next Antonio Banderas. And what if he has to pick up some odd job in the meantime while he pursues his dreams, is he a failure? And what if he never makes it big, his screenplays never get produced, he is never cast a role- is he a failure? Absolutely, undoubtedly, no, no, NO!

So you’re working 3 jobs because you dropped out of school, you’re not a failure. You have quit more jobs than changed your underwear, you’re not a failure. You don’t know what you want to be, you’re not a failure. You busk in the street to make ends meat, you’re not a failure. You ran out of money and now you’re back to square one, you’re not a failure. You still live at home, you’re not a failure. Your job isn’t very well paid, you’re not a failure. You don’t have a smart phone, you’re not a failure! You didn’t get that promotion, you’re NOT a failure! I cannot emphasis this enough. After feeling like a failure for most of my 23 years, I want to shout it from the rooftops: I am not a failure. I am not failing at life. Say it with me- “I am not a failure. I am not failing at life”.

Life has a funny way of working out. I’ve been rejected so many times from jobs, men, whatever. I’m so glad I was. If not, if everything had quite happily gone along the way I wanted it to back then, I’d have never learnt the things I know now. Learning and growing is more important than the obsession with ‘not failing’. Let’s say mum’s right, let’s say I did fail. Well thank goodness, because I’m about to embark on my 5th country living and working abroad and it never would have happened. I’d never have developed a passion for yoga and one day want to teach it. I’d never have gone on safari. I’d never have felt whole just as I am. I’d never have thought I had something meaningful to write about and share with others. I’d never have passed out in Vietnam from smoki… uhhhh, yeah. Let’s say the folks are right. Why are you thankful? What have you learnt? How have you grown?
Thank you for reading. xxx

Feature picture, full credits to Seanwes and his great podcast, “Failure Does Not Exist”.

Hi! I’m Sarah. I dropped out of university tired with the mundane life I was living in England. Now I’m an aspiring ex-pat of the world, having already lived and worked in Vietnam, Italy and Maldives. I’m using this blog to document my experiences and hopefully inspire others!

10 Comments

  1. When I was about to finish high school did I go to a vocational counselor. He asked me what I was planning for the future. I said that I wanted to become an engineer (because it was regarded to be a safe job). Then he asked me: “What are your interests?” Well, I said, I like aircraft, photography and to make drawings. The third question was really good, but at that time didn’t I understand it: “So why don’t you pursue one of those dreams?” No, no, no, that was too risky, I said.

    Some months later did I serve my mandatory military service in the Air Force as a photographer. Afterwards was I offerd a job in a photo laboratory, where I stayed for several years. Then, at 28 years of age did I wake up and started to fly. And the rest is history, as they say.

    Some weeks ago did I read the book “Rich dad, poor dad” by Robert Kiyosaki. I wish that I could have read that book when I was 20. The author says that most people thinks that ecconomical security is a good education and a secure job with a good pension scheme (and a big mortgage). That’s what most parents tell their kids. But rich dads don’t theach their kids that way. They teach their kids to follow their interests, spend less money than they earn and to collect assets.

    1. Absolutely! If money wasn’t an issue, we would all be shooting for the stars. Luckily, some of us are finding the courage to go for it, just as you did!

  2. There is a big difference between failing at something, and being a failure. We all fail, just pick yourself up and learn from it!

  3. A lot of people put so much pressure on meeting particular life stages, getting a job, getting married, owning a house, having kids. Who is to say that that is the way it should work to ensure the best outcomes for people – society reinforces it but I agree with you Sarah in saying that we need to re-evaluate what it is that we actually want to do and what it is we want to succeed at, on our own terms. There is no need to spend time trying to force yourself into meeting particular stages because society indicates this is how it should be. Sometimes we don’t even need to know where we will end up, as long as we are learning and growing on the way there. Great post, really thoughtful and I enjoyed reading this!

    1. Thanks Suanlee, great comment. The only thing I must try to remember is that some people are happy with meeting the life stages generally required of them, and that this is OK. Sometimes I go a little bit -Mona-Lisa-Smile on people (great movie) but for some of us, getting married and having kids is what they really want to do. I do wonder though if friends of mine are rushing into it and will have different attitudes about it once they’re older!

What do you think? Let me know!

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