Managing failure, the test we keep on taking

Failure is a heavy topic. It is hard to think about failure without remembering yours, and it is hard to look at the way others manage their failures without asking yourself how would’ve you done it. And, yet, it is a topic of major importance, its proper management being a never-ending test.

Failing is a part of our lives, even if we are not fond of it. We fail constantly, even if we talk about our personal lives, about our careers, or about our relationship with ourselves. We fail, and this is not bad at all, as failure is such a powerful tool for learning.

Because, yes, failure is, above anything else, a tool we’re handed. It is a mirror showing us what could’ve been done better, or at least in a different way. It brings along different perspectives, others than our common favorites. It helps us grow.

But this only becomes visible after the dramatic phase, after the why me, why again? moment. And, if you happen to be a perfectionist, like, getting through this phase is a challenge in itself, the learning part coming more as an extra task. As much as it is a tool and a way of learning, failure is also a test. The way someone manages their failures speaks volumes about that person. It is a good thing to pay attention to when you meet a new person, their attitude about failure.

Usually, there are three big types of approaches: Why me, I wasn’t worth it anyway, and It’s not the end of the world.

Why me? is the approach where the person, put in front of a failure, tries to find an external source. It is never about them, their failure is the consequence of other people’s actions, and they have nothing to think about. If you ask them what are they thinking they did wrong, will tell you there’s nothing wrong about their way of action, the other people or maybe the destiny didn’t want them to succeed. They were right, and would if they could turn back the time, do things the very same way.

The I wasn’t worth it anyway narrativeis the perfectly opposed approach. It is, just like the previous, strongly connected with one’s self-esteem. The person tried, hoped for success, but deep inside the feeling that they’re not good enough to make it persisted. They take their failure as something personal, that is way more about them- their interpersonal skills, their knowledge, their way of action than it is about others and their perception.

It is not the end of the world is, if you ask me, the only effective approach when it comes to managing failure. You try, you fail, you take some time to analyze and see what could’ve been made differently. Maybe you were not a good enough fit. Or maybe your knowledge of the subject was lacunary. Maybe you just tried at the wrong time, and the right moment for it would’ve been other.

It implies taking everything into consideration and then choosing up wisely. Maybe you will or will not try again, but what you learn from that attempt remains with you, shaping you into a different individual. Being aware of that keeps you committed to learning and without any bitter feelings long-term.

Naturally, the way one will approach a failure has other stuff in the background, besides of their maturity level: how important was for them to make it from the first attempt, how much work they’ve put into it, how many other chances to try again they have and the pressure of their close ones are also factors to consider when we talk about one’s attitude on failure.

My experience with this was, as expected, a tough one. Being a perfectionist with a low self-esteem level, the tendency was to assume that every failure was my fault. Other factors were always secondary and the“what could I have done better” list was a neverending one. Till one day, when I got to understand that, no matter how hard I want it to be that way, truth is that very little of the outcome was under my control. I could only control the way I act and talk, as well as my level of knowledge, but the perception of others about me will never be something I could control, so blaming myself for not being enough won’t lead me anywhere. And this was such a hard pill to swallow for an anxious girl like I am. However, it only made things easier, as it made me come to better terms with my failures.

Linking my self-worth on my success-failure rate was for a long time one of my most toxic behaviors. It made me think that to be worthy of respect, affection, and trust, I have to be successful constantly. But this is not how life works.

You are going to be successful at times and failing at times, but this won’t make you a failure as a person. You can be a good person and still fail at things. This doesn’t mean that your goals are unrealistic, or that you’re a fool for trying to make them happen. It only means that you’re human, and failure is a perfectly human trait. No one has it all together every second of their life. No one said that failure is something to be happy about, or that feeling sad about your failure is not a valid feeling. Yet here’s the catch: being a worthy human being is a constant, and linking it to something as fluctuant as the success will harm you. It is one of the things with the greatest impact on your mental health, as well as one of the biggest fears. Don’t let your failures mess up with your most important resource, you know better.

Failure is far beyond the good and the bad. It is a complex phenomenon, the beginning of a whole journey that has a unique purpose to help you learn about yourself. Looking back, there are moments when I’m happy things didn’t work out my way, as I can now see clearly what a disaster this would have been. But some failures were my fault, and that taught me how to act in future situations like that, which I’m grateful for.

So do yourself a favor, and stop trying to put all your failures in the same box. Keep in mind that you are a person who deserves love, appreciation, and good things, no matter your failures. Your failures don’t make you a bad person, even if the voice inside your head keeps nagging you with this idea. Instead, it makes you an apprentice, someone who has to keep on learning. And when it comes to dealing with life, we’re all apprentices here, so cherish every opportunity you get to discover more.

I’m fine

Not that long ago I’ve seen a post on Social Media asking ‘What’s your favorite lie?’ I did not answer at the moment, but I know that my favorite one has always been I’m fine. It is the lie I’m telling most of the time, and even if I know I should not, I keep telling it even when I’m anything but fine. Or especially then.

It is bad, yet a deeply rooted habit, and a costly one in terms of mental health and general well-being. But it is far from being something special. In fact, this is part of the factors leading towards what is known as The Caregiver’s Burnout. This is a common condition amongst the caregivers, manifesting as anxiety, depression, physical and emotional fatigue.

But here’s the catch: there are way more caregivers than we tend to admit. The caregivers are defined as persons caring usually for family members suffering from a disability or a chronic disease and are mostly associated with adults caring for their family’s elders. They are not.

A caregiver is also that friend who is always catching and trying to support and lift the others. That friend taking everyone else’s hand during their mentally challenging times and never talking openly about its own. It is that one person that always seems to have their life together, to know exactly where they’re going and what they have to do.

Because not every suffering is visible. Some of us face mental health challenges, others are facing losses, grieving times, there is a lot going on in every person’s life. And, every here and there, it is at least one person being the safety net of their social group. That one person who got the others coming to them for guidance in their tough times. They are caregivers as well, highly empathetic people that care and feel deeply responsible for those guided by them, even if not witnessed as caregivers by society.

And that leads them into a very dangerous trap. It makes them feel like the time for them to talk about their struggles is never now, always later. Now there are others that need their help and support, loved ones that need to receive their best in order to recover or get through the darkness. And this is how they get used to answering I’m fine when they’re asked about themselves. Because they are not a priority on their own list.

This also comes from a strong belief that places bad times as a thing to be kept private. As if, once admitted that you struggle as well, your ability of supporting others would vanish away, making you as weak as they are. Because the strong ones don’t make their dark times public while happen, but only talk about them later, when there are only the scars without the pain. However, truth is we all can struggle at the same time, but not in the same ways. We can (and we do) struggle in different ways, due to different reasons, and at very different intensities. That’s not what matters. What really matters is the ability to manage struggle, frustration and pressure. Because, as an informal caregiver, there’s a different kind of pressure on your shoulders: the thought that you’ve been trusted. That your close one, your friend, the person who asked you for help, did so because it knew you can deal with the situation without being overwhelmed. That you will lift them up, not that they would drag you down. When it comes to a family member that needs to be taken care of, there is a slightly easier burden to carry: you’ve had no actual choice, other than caring for them.

And just like that, the story of I’m fine begins to unfold: with the desire of not being a disappointment to the people which have seen the best in you, and with the belief that there will come a day when you will be free to talk openly about your struggles and allow yourself to ask for the help you need.

Because at the end of the day, what makes a caregiver fail those who trust them by failing themselves is the mix between empathy and fear. You know how it feels to be let down, so you fear that, by saying that you are struggling, you will let the ones that trusted you down. But you’re not. In fact, you would only be helping them more, as they see that it is fine to talk about your bad times. That you can only grow stronger when you learn to be honest. And, the most important lesson one could learn, that it is an act of self-care and self-respect, proof of generosity, as no one has ever been able to pour into other’s souls from an empty cup.

The poisoned thread

Today I’ve decided to write about one of the things with the biggest impact on our mental health: perfectionism. Defined by APA as the tendency to demand of others or of oneself an extremely high or even flawless level of performance, in excess of what is required by the situation.

It is a topic long discussed in the field of psychology and cognitive sciences. A personality feature with its own scales to be measured. But, most importantly, it is part of our everyday life, and it affects us all, aware of it or not.

I’ve been a perfectionist for literally all my life, asking a lot from the others, and even more from myself. Because it felt like the right thing to do, the way to evolve, to improve. I’ve been convinced that the only way to be a better person is to be more: to do more, to get involved more, to know more and more, about all things that make you curious. There was always room for improvement, and it still is.

But only when I have lost everything that felt important to me I got to discover that I was, for so long in my life, hanging on a poisoned thread. When everything left with me was the perfectionism screaming in the sleepless nights, telling me that I’m a complete failure.

That I’ve failed myself and everyone else who’s believed in me and my ability of making this life feel worth living. That I am a disappointment, and I have to work harder than ever to gain back all that I’ve lost. That only if I will become twice as good as I used to be before I failed and ruined everything, I will take back the things I’ve lost. That the guilt I was feeling for what happened is the only legitimate feeling, the only thing that I’m supposed to feel.

Easy to say that this whole speech was no good. That it only brought back issues that I have been feeling like I’ve overcome. That every little progress achieved in the past years felt like gone for good. That not the period when I’ve lost the main things that used to give me a feeling of meaning was the peak of the fall, but the period when the perfectionist inside me started to have its monologue over and over.

Obviously, I tried my best to diminish that: had numerous attempts of losing the weight I’ve gained in my depressive period, tried to dive into the freelance writing thing, and started to keep a diary where I was rating my weeks, in order to see how things go. It was supposed to be my recovery diary, but it was nothing like that. In fact, taking a look at what I’ve been writing there, I see no progress, but self-sabotage, self-doubt and guilt. A lot of self-blame, too.

One of the most relevant fragments about the way my perfectionism almost destroyed me sounds like this: I want to believe that everything will be alright, that I didn’t lose everything, but it sounds so fake. I know, sometimes I forget the fact that I’m really, really young, but do I really have enough time left to fix everything?

I’m sure that everyone had moments when it felt like this, but the thing is that, even so, being a perfectionist isn’t, till now, seen as a problematic trait. In fact, we’re encouraged by everything around us to give our best, day after day, caught up in a so-called successful thinking spiral.

You have to work more, to learn more, to achieve more, to do more. Day after day. Ain’t nothing wrong about a person trying to make every single aspect of its life to be close to perfection. In fact, it’s a model to be followed, as that person works hard to improve her life. And this is one of the most important things we should get rid of: the belief that perfectionism means improvement.

This is how you discover that there’s more to that definition. It is associated with depression, anxiety, eating disorders and other mental health problems. And it comes to a moment when you get to be fully aware about these things, usually when you get to experience them yourself.

At a certain point, it is just the logical aftermath: you try to make everything perfect, so you get frustrated when your attempts are failing. This, if it often happens enough, brings up the feeling of unworthiness, and we all try to cope with it in our own ways. And I had to become tired, completely tired, in order to understand that the way to progress is not perfectionism, but patience. That, actually, being a perfectionist is nothing to brag about, but rather a toxic personality trait that one should be aware of and try to manage.

Because my history with being a perfectionist girl is not only my story. It is a small fragment of a collective narrative telling us daily that, in order to be worthy- of appreciation, of respect, of love, we have to work hard in our attempt of becoming perfect beings.

That you’ll receive more as you’ll do more. That only the weak people have bad days or bad periods of time. That the second place is a loser and the first place is the only one worth considering. The all or nothing narrative, the toxic speech of a perfectionist generation, raising other perfectionists, which have, somehow, to address to other types of challenges.

This is how everything begins, by understanding that being a perfectionist can be a huge trigger for things that you’d never want to experience. That it is not the price you have to pay for a successful life. That you don’t have to glorify a toxic trait if you feel like it puts you in a bad place, mentally and emotionally.

Because, at the end of the day, that’s the trick: there’s a difference between trying to do your best in a situation, and trying to reach the perfection. And the difference comes from the fact that doing your best is human, natural, subjective and imperfect. Perfection is just an invention. It is a fiction, a very loved one, but with nothing human in it. We’re not born to be perfect, we’re born to be the best people we could be, and that’s something that changes day after day.

Sometimes your best means that you got out of bed and went to work, when you’ve cried all night before it and just wanted to end it. And there are times when your best makes you proud of yourself, and the whole life seems to glow. Life is not linear, and it is not made to be linear, and trying to make it perfect is the perfect recipe of giving up on the little joys that make it beautiful, human, and, at the end of the day, worth living.