January is awash with people celebrating their achievements and making grand plans for the coming 12 months. There’s nothing wrong with that and, actually, we probably need a bit more positivity and patting ourselves on the back, considering how much negativity there is in this world. But it can often feel like life is all about those headlines – the big HOORAY moments which qualify for a social media update – and it can feel like everyone has so many more of those moments than you, because scrolling through Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, it’s the job promotions, the pregnancy announcements, the wedding anniversary celebrations, the 10k runs, the new business launches, that are often shared, rather than the mundane, the disappointing, or the difficult. But – newsflash – life is actually about that every day stuff and it’s also about the mistakes we make and our failures.
I’ve learned more from my failures than I’ve learned from any of my big life successes. When I fail, it’s usually a time of self-reflection and analysing why I might have failed at that thing, thinking about whether it’s something I could succeed in, in the future, and actually, if it’s even something I want to succeed in, after all.
Often, when I succeed at something, I’m so elated and distracted by the accomplishment, I very quickly bounce onto the next thing without much thought at all.
And it’s great to share our failures – anyone who has listened to Elizabeth Day’s podcast How To Fail will know that. So, here I’m sharing what I see as my five biggest failures and what I learned from them…
I failed to get into a really great uni. Of course, even getting into ANY uni should be seen as a success, but at the time, this felt like a big failure to 18-year-old Alison. Having gone to a high-achieving secondary school (where I was consistently in the middle to bottom set for most subjects because everyone was SO CLEVER) there were people heading off to University of Edinburgh, St Andrews, Oxford, Cambridge…. but my average to low grades meant that I was rejected from every uni that I applied for, apart from one. So off I went, to that one uni which wasn’t a great experience for a variety of reasons.
What I learned: I learned that comparing myself to others, and setting the benchmark according to their abilities and plans, is not a great idea. Sure, it can often spur you on and motivate you to move in a certain direction, but for me, at that point, it just made me feel like a low-achieving loser.
I failed to get every job I’ve ever been interviewed for. I’m serious! Every office job I’ve ever done has happened because of a) doing work experience and then being offered a job or b) being head-hunted. But every single job I’ve applied for, and been interviewed for? Didn’t get any of them.
What I learned: I’m REALLY bad at job interviews! Maybe it’s a first impressions thing? Perhaps I show nerves and say stupid things? It’s possible I’m not great at explaining how awesome I am, or selling myself? Who knows! (Although I do remember being interviewed once for a Junior Writer job at Top of The Pops magazine and making the mistake of telling the editor, in the interview, that I’d spent my teenage years stalking boybands. So, I have a pretty good idea why I didn’t get that job….)
I failed to be a good magazine editor. This isn’t me being all self-deprecating, I really AM a pretty terrible magazine editor. I’m great at writing, I’m great at coming up with creative and commercial ideas, I’m great at being part of a magazine team, but I wasn’t great at being an editor. Why? I hate managing people. And I suck at it. Honestly, despite going on numerous management training courses over the years, if you were to ask most people who I’ve managed over the years, I’m sure they’d tell you I wasn’t a great boss. I don’t think many people DO have great management skills, to be honest. So often we get promoted into a role which involves managing people, when it’s not even the job we want to do and it takes us away from doing the very thing we set out to do. I started as a writer, but by the time I was managing teams of people, I wasn’t doing any writing. Not my goal!
What I learned: It’s just as important to figure out your weaknesses, as it is to figure out your strengths. After my last magazine editing job, in 2014, I went freelance and discovered that once I was back writing, doing the odd magazine shift, and then subsequently working on my blog and podcast, I was much happier and far better at my job.
I failed to get pregnant for a second time, without fertility treatment. Of course, many people don’t manage to get pregnant at all, so I was incredibly fortunate that we could afford fertility treatment and that it eventually worked. But that didn’t stop me from feeling like my body was failing me, in the five years that we were trying to conceive a second baby. I became pregnant quickly with my eldest – I came off the Pill and three months later, I was pregnant – so I expected it would be just as easy the second time around. But it took five years, and lots of fertility treatment including two rounds of IVF. In that time, as lots of friends announced pregnancies, had babies and then announced more pregnancies, I’d smile and congratulate them, but I’d also be thinking ‘Why isn’t my body playing ball?’
What I learned: I learned that it’s a miracle that any woman gets pregnant and has a baby. An actual miracle! When you think about all of the variables that need to be in place, it’s a wonder it ever happens. I also learned that no matter what your plans are, life might have other ideas, and when failure and disappointment crop up repeatedly, you have to just pick yourself up and crack on.
I failed at making great YouTube videos. This might sound like a weird one, but a few years ago, every blogger was talking about how VIDEO IS THE FUTURE. It’s all about video, now guys, so you need to get yourself on YouTube and get as many subscribers as you can! So I did. I joined YouTube, I started making videos. And they were pretty awful. I quickly realised that it’s not my forte. Other people were far better than me at filming, lighting, talking to camera, editing – the whole shebang. So after a few attempts, I hung up my YouTube shoes and decided it wasn’t for me.
What I learned: There’s no point in doing something just because everyone else is, or you feel pressure to follow a trend. Everyone has different skills and strengths. A while after deciding YouTube was a no-go for me, I started my podcast and (without wanting to sound like I’m blowing my own trumpet too much) I discovered I’m really rather excellent at podcasting! Not Another Mummy Podcast very quickly became one of the top parenting podcasts in the UK. I might never have started it, if I’d still been plugging away at making terrible YouTube videos.
I want to know, though! What are your biggest failures and what did you learn from them?
Really enjoyed reading this! Have you watched the video of the Chinese farmer by Alan Watt? There is no negative or positive in any situation, just what you make of it. Well done for finding the positive in yours! Xx
This is so interesting and relatable Alison. You’re making me want to write my own failures blog post…I’m just worried I might be a bit shit at it…xx
I really relate to quite a few of these but what I have learnt is I’m not a failure because I am comparing myself to others and that is something I know now that I shouldn’t do. Now I celebrate my achievements and some days I just celebrate the fact I’ve survived.