I have been thinking a lot about failure lately. About how there is so much pressure to do well. All the time. Not just at school, or work, but life in general. We all go around only doing the things that we are good at; or avoiding things just because we are scared we may not get it quite right. Scared of being a 'failure'. When really you need to fail to progress in life. To become the person you want to be. To experience life as it should be experienced, not simply through the little protective bubbles we put around ourselves.
For a long time (as long as I can remember) I wanted to be perfect. At everything. In every way. Failure terrified me. But I did fail. All the time.
I was so far from the perfection I craved that by the time I reached college my self-esteem was in shatters. But I had a life plan you see. Everything was going to change. I was going to reinvent myself at college, make millions of friends, get top marks, study law, graduate at 23, buy my own house and become somebody.
Then college happened. And I realised that I wasn't going to get into law. I was just not good enough. And I hadn't reinvented myself at all. I was still the nervous neurotic self-deprecating self I always had been. My plan vanished. And I was left with nothing. I didn't know where I was going, I was so uncertain about the future..and I was still me.
So I stopped eating.
That was something I could do. It was something I wasn't failing at. All my self-esteem, every part of me was focused on this one thing. Every kilo lost was a win for me. It became my life. I didn't have to worry about the future any more. I didn't have to be terrified of change. Because when you stop eating nothing ever changes. Life just stops.
Obviously my family didn't let that continue. I got shoved into an out-patient program, 3 days a week of intensive cognitive-behavioural therapy. It didn't do anything. I hated the place, I hated my family for putting me there. Most of all I hated myself.
But one day, as I was arguing with the dietician for the millionth time about having to have an extra half cup of juice, she just looked at me and said 'Do you want to get better on not? Because it is up to you and only you'. And she was right. I hadn't realised it before. It was my choice. And so I did the most difficult thing I have ever done.
I decided to get better.
I would like to say I was out of there in a week, all smiles and roses, but it was a year of hard work.I remember on my last day of school I looked around and realised something. I did have friends. And they were amazing. I did like my teachers and the classes. I loved my home and my family. And I loved college too. I could have had an amazing time. I didn't have to reinvent myself or stop failing. If I had decided to just relax and give myself a break things would have been great. It wasn't the situation that had made me miserable at all. It was only me. All of it was my choice.
So I chose to life live and enjoy it. I didn't get into law.. and that was ok. I modified my plans and started a Social Work/Arts degree instead. And since then my plans have kept on changing. I make a mistake, learn from it, and try something new. It wasn't failing that had made me a failure. It was giving up and not trying. I would count my biggest failure (not eating) as one of my biggest successes too. It taught me more than I ever thought I would learn, and it has encouraged to make the most of life. To appreciate it. And to appreciate myself, warts and all (figuratively and literally!).
(n.b. it also stopped me from being such a middle-class egotistic teenage drama queen. Mostly.. :p )
Besides, all the winners that I know aren't amazing at everything. They aren't the smartest people, or the most good looking, they don't have amazing jobs and stacks of money.. but they are the kindest. They are the people who hold doors open for someone, give money to homeless people, and make random strangers smile. If I can make someone's life a little bit better, then I guess I'll be a winner too. Failures and all.