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On Success and Failure

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Dagr by Peter Nicolai ArboWe all have things we do, things we wish to accomplish, that are a part of who we are. But what happens when we fail? When our dreams of success are dashed by the harsh realities of life?

To kick off our Month of Self-Reflection, an anonymous British guest poster shares her reaction to the Olympic loss of pentathlete Mhairi Spence and what it taught her about her own successes and failures. (Read more about Mhairi…)

I read an amazing article last month. It was frank, open and in parts challenging. It was about the disappointment British Olympian Mhairi Spencefelt after failing to win gold despite being the reigning World Champion.

On one level her story is hard to relate to. How many of us are Olympians? How many
have had the opportunities she has had in life? How many are facing worse problems?

But then again, who among us has not felt we’ve failed?

Yes, to most of us being the 21st-best in the world–as Mhairi placed at the Olympics–is nothing to cry about. Yes, Mhairi’s immediate reaction to flee the country and pretend she wasn’t an Olympian seems extreme.

But I felt the same way when I thought I had failed to get my dream job as a solicitor. The hiring process was split into two parts; an interview with a partner in the firm, followed by a written exercise. I had done my research, wore my smartest suit and felt confident. The interview part went really well. The interviewer’s style suited me and to be honest I’m a natural talker.

Writing on the other hand… All I had to do was summarise a four page report and make a recommendation. The problem was I chose to use a laptop. It was daft choice. I had never done an exam on a computer before and I couldn’t type as fast as I could write. I only managed half a page of the report. I came out thinking I’d completely blown it.

That night I was inconsolable. I rang my boyfriend and my mother and refused all their attempts to put things in perspective. Just like Mhairi I was really shocked and ashamed that I had failed. And it was hard to come to terms with that failure when I was so used to doing well.

Then I got an unusual second chance. The firm told me that I had done an excellent job at the interview and were surprised by my written results. They asked me to resit the written part.

My second try gave me the chance to show them what I can do. I qualified as solicitor, and in March I will start my qualified career with the same firm that gave me a second chance.

I think it is healthy to set high standards for ourselves. To strive. It is also very human to punish ourselves when we fail.

That is why the readers’ comments on the Olympian article shocked and hurt me so

A large proportion of the comments lambasted the poor girl calling her over
privileged for riding a horse, spoilt for taking a holiday, and a poor sport for not appreciating that others had it worse.

She doesn’t need or deserve our criticism: what she needs was the same support I got from my boyfriend and my mother, even if she’s not ready to hear it yet.

I was extremely proud of my country at the end of the London 2012 Olympics. I believed “when our time came … we did it right”. But when it wasn’t quite our Olympians’ time to shine, did we do the right thing then?

Where was my country’s compassion? Don’t the people who commented on the article know what it’s like to fail?

I want to reach out to Mhairi. To say, “You did so well and I am so thankful you competed for us. You can try again. You will be offered your second chance, too.”

With support, this challenge doesn’t have to evolve into destructive self-pity. Instead, it can become something to learn from and to build from.

I left my supportive comments for Mhairi–and I wrote this article. I need her to be able to try again, make me proud to be British, and remind me of how to try again when I fail.

And she, as do we all in times of failure, needs to know others are rooting for her.

Do you have a story to share with Experimental Wifery’s readers? Consider submitting a guest post of your own.

2 responses »

  1. Thanks for your post. It is so natural to feel ashamed when we fail and you’re right when you insist that what we need is not more shame but compassionate support so that, when we’re ready, we can dare to try again.

    • At the girls’ school where I teach, I’m usually the one who has to remind students that grades aren’t as important as they think they are. The girls get so bogged down in their failures that it takes a leap of faith to move forward.


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