Successful Failure

5317217648_e98a1685fb_o

A photo from my 3rd failed attempt at completing a Project 365 in 2011 of my college and SAT prep madness. I was able to successfully complete a P365 in 2014 on my 5th attempt.


Trigger/Content Warning: self-harm mention. It is part of our mission here at The Pulp Zine to create a safe space for our readers. If you do not wish to read this article, we welcome you to to look around our site for something more to your comfort and liking. If you DO wish to read this article but would like to pass over the mention, it is located under the subtitle Phase III: Self-Inflicted Punishment and is designated with three asterisks (***) at the start and at the end. At the bottom of this article is a link to masterpost of resources for those who struggle with self-harm and suicidal ideation.

     Congratulations! You’ve made it to Blue Monday, the most depressing day of the year. By this point in the year, most people tend to experience the Quitter Blues, the Lying About Going Strong (LAGS) fatigue, or be down in the the “Maybe I’ll Have Better Luck Next Year” dumps. On top of it being Blue Monday, Mercury (the ruling planet of communication) is in retrograde until the 25th. So how do you not give up on the whole year when it seems to be getting off to such a bad start? Well, first of all, I want to offer a genuine congratulations if you’ve stuck with your resolutions and goals so far! I hope you’re able to see them through to the end. To those who haven’t been so lucky or those who don’t set resolutions but haven’t been having the best year so far, don’t write this year off as a bad job just yet.

     After giving some careful reflection to my personal experiences as well as those that others have told me about, I’ve come up with a list of the three phases of failure that maintain failure’s status as a powerful and fearsome prospect:

Phase I: Loss of Inspiration/Motivation
Life happens. Always and constantly. Some things in life get in our way that we can’t always prevent or control (including but definitely not limited to: work burnout, systemic oppression, emergencies, and/or downward slopes in our mental health). These things can change our mindset and take our focus away from our goals and projects. Sometimes they result in tiny slips or disruptions, sometimes they completely throw us off and away goes our drive to see things through.

Phase II: Depression
This phase can start just before, during, after our goals/projects/resolutions fall apart. This phase is at the root of Blue Monday. Of course, depression itself is a complex, clinically-defined mental illness, but its effects and symptoms are prevalent following failure. This phase is not mere sadness. To put it in author J.K. Rowling’s words, “It’s that absence of feeling – and it’s even the absence of hope that you can feel better. And it’s so difficult to describe to someone who’s never been there because it’s not sadness. Sadness is – I know sadness – sadness is not a bad thing. You know? To cry and to feel. But it’s that cold absence of feeling – that really hollowed-out feeling.”

Phase III: Self-Inflicted Punishment
Here is where giving up or failing takes its most unhealthy turn. ***Self-inflicted punishment can be verbal (putting yourself down in conversation, berating oneself in in internal monologues such as thoughts or diaries, etc) or it can be physical (please see the bottom of this post for a link to a list of resources regarding self-harm). Sometimes it is a mix of both. Apart from the obvious fact of harming oneself in any regard being inherently dangerous, this phase above any other redirects and transforms one’s energy into a negative and self-destructive energy. The urge to not look down upon and/or harm yourself is a difficult one to repress or avoid when dealing with failure, but it is possible.***

    The cons of failing are just about summed up in the word itself. The pros, however, are often overlooked and are the key to handling failure in a healthy manner. The most immediate pro of giving up on something or failing to do it is that, well, you no longer have to worry about failing or giving up. It already happened and now it’s time to move forward. And speaking of time, our second pro is that the time you would have dedicated to your goal can now be used for other things like reevaluating your goals and methods, but more on that later. From here, we reach our final pro: getting to know ourselves better.

     So what do we do when we fail? First and foremost: accept it. Failure has entered your life whether you were ready for it or not. While it’s there, use it as a resource to answer the following questions: What went wrong? Why? What did I gain from this experience? Can I reset this goal for a later time? If so, what can I do differently next time around? Rationalizing your failure and turning it into a resource for self-progression is not only the most important step in dealing with failure, but it also arms you with the mindset needed to avoid self-punishment, our next step. Understand that it is okay to leave something behind, to fail. It doesn’t matter if you got lazy, were overwhelmed, or simply forgot because now you’ve assessed that and are on your way to finding solutions to these obstacles for the future. Use that free time you have to reflect on the experience as a means of gaining a better understanding of yourself: your strengths, weaknesses, wants, all of it. Equally important is to use that time to take a breather. You don’t have to do all of these things immediately. Pace yourself. Get back into a hobby you love, rewatch your favorite films, treat yourself to some pizza, journal. Engage in whatever activities you find most relaxing and which best improve upon your environment and state of mind.

     Success and failure are not opposites. Both provide opportunity for growth and learning, just in different ways. And truthfully, how can we ever savor the wealth of success if we haven’t indulged in the scarce, yet potent tones and textures of failure? Whoever you are, wherever you are, and whatever your goals may be, I hope that you’re able to reap benefit from your efforts (and become immune to LAGS), whether those benefits come from success or failure. Know that whatever happens, whatever anyone tells you including yourself, you got this.

Author’s note: Self-harm and suicidal ideation are not things easily dealt with. While I hope you find this article useful, I understand that overcoming the urge to punish or else put yourself in danger is a process. Choose Recovery on Tumblr has a masterpost of resources for people who struggle with these habits and I hope that they’re able to provide comfort, guidance, and recovery to anyone out there dealing with these things.