Failure: My Continuing Struggles and Eventual Triumph over Perfectionism

I would like to start this week’s blog post by saying thank you to all of those who went out of their way to show their support for me this week both online and in person. I was very discouraged in my last post, but you all pooled together and help me out of that place, so I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

As I was thinking about the post for this week, I started feeling very anxious. I figured many would be looking at it, expecting something great, and I wanted to give you something that you would be able to relate to and be proud of me for, I wanted to give the perfect post. That’s when I realized that I wasn’t taking my own advice, I ignored the very information I had written last week because of the sudden increase in responders. If you recall, my post last week was about how I write not for the approval of others, but because I love to do it, because it makes me happy. I was violating the standards I had for myself because I defined this week’s post by who would see it, or how it would be received, instead of making it purely passionate. You see, I was so cautious about not failing everyone else, I failed my own standards by default.

If you’re any fan of the recent Disney movie Inside Out, you’ll know a little bit of the emotion/character Sadness, which is, in fact, the embodiment of the emotion sadness. One of her catchphrases is reminding the viewer “failure is a part of life”. At first it may seem comical, I mean of course that’s something Sadness would say, because she’s sad. But as I was thinking about it the other day, I realized that I need to take this simple phrase more seriously.

Ever since I was young I’ve held myself to a high standard, I definitely did not do too well with imperfection. “A’s” were the only acceptable grade because “B” stood for “bad”. Please allow me to make it clear that this perfectionism didn’t stem from the way my parents raised me, they always emphasized that grades and worldly success isn’t as important as spiritual healthiness. The pressure was wholly and completely from myself, trying to make myself “better”.

It was only until recently did I realize that “better” isn’t necessarily what was best for me or for those around me. My competitive nature and need to be the best at everything drove away friendships and destroyed relationships that I had spent a long time in forming. I didn’t know it at the time, but perhaps I didn’t need perfection to make me a better person, I needed failure.

As the years went on, my obsession with perfection only drove me to a deeper and deeper state of isolation. My friends had mostly all left me and, at the end of the day, my GPA was nice, but it didn’t make me happy. It didn’t make me feel accomplished. It was as if my life was a puzzle and there was a missing piece of my life that I had tried to fill with a cut out piece of paper, a placeholder for something bigger than myself.

Here I am, three years later, still trying to fill that missing piece with random objects, perfectionism still being what I run to most (it certainly didn’t help that, when I went through a Harry Potter phase I was sorted into the Ravenclaw house, which, for those of you who are unfamiliar, is the house that is known for their knowledge and good grades [go figure]). I felt an enormous pressure to succeed and, in response to that pressure, shut people out. I built up walls without even realizing it. I didn’t know then that, when you build a castle, you can’t be the only one living in it.

Where does this all tie into the theme of failure? I was so obsessed with the idea of not failing, I failed by default. I am reminded of a quote from author J.K. Rowling, “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.” I had failed, as she said, by default and I only now realized it. So what do I do now? I failed, I messed up, what happens next?

The answer is surprisingly simple.

What happens next? Tomorrow.

Tomorrow I wake up and go through my day again knowing that failure is quite possibly an option. If I fail I was always have tomorrow because tomorrow is a brand new day, opportunities both for success and failure abound. Not failure as a cop out, failure as in “I tried my hardest and it just didn’t work”, “I gave everything I had and I failed” not “I don’t want to do it, I’ll fail” because that is a whole different post in and of itself.

I heard somewhere that failure is an event, not a person, or better said by Jon Sinclair “Failure is a bruise, not a tattoo”. Our failures do not define who we are, rather how we react to them, how we choose to learn from them dictates our character, our future. If we take failure with a heavily, beating ourselves up over the past every chance we get, we will never learn, never grow, never become. But, if we take our failures and run with them, taking care not to forget what we’ve learned, failure can mean becoming a whole new, better person. Failure doesn’t have to mean failure, failure can mean success.
I’ll leave you with this, an example from my present life. I have a pretty important exam on Monday for my Abnormal Psychology Class (one of those classes I need to graduate) and the class is structured so that your grade on the test is your grade in the class (brilliant method right? [sarcasm]). As you could guess I am nervous for this test, nervous for the questions on it, nervous for my score, anxiety courses through my veins whenever I think about the concept of this exam. What I am really afraid of isn’t the questions, it’s not the difficulty of the exam itself, it’s the prospect of my failing, my possible failure, and the possibility of getting a “B” or “C”. Of course this would make anyone nervous, failing a class isn’t fun. But if I do bad on this test, am I going to freak out over it, as I have been known to do in the past? Am I going to hole up in my room for hours at a time staring at the ceiling because I got a bad grade, or even just any grade other than an “A”? No. I’m not going to freak out over what I used to believe was a “failure”, but I’m also going to study the material on that test until my eyes fall out. I’m going to prepare myself and hope, pray even, for the best. And if I fail, well, this bruise may take time to heal, but I must remember that this, whatever it may end up being, is not a tattoo.


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