Failure Sucks

The Prompt: Oprah Winfrey said, “So go ahead. Fall down. The world looks different from the ground.” Do you embrace failure?

I’m not sure how to begin with this one. Oprah certainly overcame adversity in a manner that is unparalleled in the history of the world, right? Even now, she could just stop and relax and instead she’s still trying new things.

Most of the time, I get upset when I fail. A hazard of growing up Catholic and in a stressed environment is that there’s a lot of BLAME – so when things go wrong, it’s easy to internalize it. Ask any adult child or child from a divorce. It’s our fault. What is our sin? Usually being born or existing, but sometimes it’s more concrete like being noisy or a poor student or the wrong gender (in the sense that our parents wanted a boy and got a girl, not in the sense of being born into the wrong gender.) So embracing failure takes on a whole new dimension when failure is part of your very essence. And since failure happens to most people A LOT, this distorted perception is repeatedly reinforced.

But that’s a kids point of view. What about when we grow up?

I usually kick and scream, maybe whine a bit and then try to make lemonade from lemons. Sometimes that requires me going after sugar and water and a pitcher which takes me down an entirely different metaphor, but basically I need some time to process – healthily or not – and then bounce back.

There’s a lot to be learned from failure. How not to do things for example. Big pictures matter for another. Your own strengths and weaknesses. Red flags. All those lovely terms.

The truth is that failure sucks. It feels bad, it costs us money we don’t have and its awkward, embarrassing and often harmful to us. There is no ladder to success (sorry Horatio Alger). Most of us are born without boots much less boot straps to pull ourselves up and our society is riddled with systemic injustice based on race, class, gender, ability and more – these things together create high expectations and a lot of those go unmet.

Unmet expectations suck.

I don’t buy for one moment when people preach their serenity in the face of the storm approach to life. In my experience, there’s a lot of denial, avoidance and passive-aggressive coping skills in place. There’s a time and a place, people.

Car accident on McKnight Road in the dark? Yes, it sucks. Remain calm. Deal with the situation and ensure everyone is safe, then the logistics are managed and then be unhappy. I’m unhappy that we were in a car accident and I had a second concussion in one year and a back injury and a car insurance deductible. BUT it was minor, no one was seriously hurt and the woman who hit us just made the mistake of following too closely. It wasn’t catastophic – but it was a failure on her part. Not on ours. We could not have avoided that situation no matter what but we have to deal with the consequences. We don’t blame her, but I wonder what’s going through her mind. I’d feel like a failure if I tailgated and my child was in the car. I’d feel like a failure if I had bare bones car insurance. I’d feel like a failure if I had a fine to pay. But I can’t control how she feels, simply how I treat her when we interact.

Letter telling me I’m wait listed fora  writing program? I’m unhappy. I feel like a failure. I was counting on this. I cry to myself and then to Ledcat. I cry to a friend who also applied and was also denied. I even put up a pity-me post on Facebook. Because I feel BAD and I want/need some COMFORT. I did not handle that failure well, but I did handle it better than I might have before I specifically began working on coping skills.

But the things I feel most I’ve failed at most deeply are personal. And I struggle sometimes to reconcile what I feel are incidents of falling down with the things I *know* I’ve done well – the tension between these poles is hard to negotiate emotionally. When I’ve fallen on the ground, things look pretty grim for awhile. I’ve learned that people don’t rally around failure – they rally around success. When you are down, you are on your own to turn it around. That I know for sure. Even when you ask, most people have a reason to back off.

So, Oprah, no I do not embrace failure. I deal with it the best that I can. I recognize that I can’t bat a thousand. I try to learn without obsessing. I use my tools. I do all the “termy” things we are supposed to do. But I don’t embrace it.

This is the kind of embrace I embrace.
This is the kind of embrace I embrace.



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  • You know, I don’t think I embrace it either. I always figured I did because I’m just one of your top notch kind of people (ha ha) and that is what we are supposed to do, but I don’t think I actually do, now that I’ve read your essay. In fact, I’m with you. It sucks really bad. Sure, you can learn from it, but you can learn from success too and that’s such a nice way to learn. I’ve messed up at least once in just about everything: relationships, raising kids, finishing college, a job I’m not proud of, a billion failed diets and anything else you can name. I’ve never wanted to hug any of that stuff. I have wanted to kick myself very hard in the pants, but I don’t bend that way. Huh. And here I thought I was on some higher plane or something. Evolved and educated enough to embrace all of my mistakes. Nope. I really think they just suck!

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