Failure – it's not a nice word, is it? It's a word I've struggled with for years. As a child, failing was not an option. One vivid memory I have is hiding in the bathroom, copying out words I got wrong in a spelling test. I was too ashamed to let my parents see that I had only got one word right in the entire test. Another memory was when I received a lower grade than expected for giving a speech in my English class. Horrified at being awarded a dreaded grade 3 (with grades ranging from 1 – 8), I insisted I be allowed to give the speech again. The teacher obviously sensed my desperation and gave my pitiful performance a grade 2. I sat down and breathed a sign of relief.
The point of these anecdotes is that I always have been afraid of failing. A tango partner to fear of failing is setting high standards for one's self. When I was praised for doing well, my eye would pick out the one piece of criticism. That is what I would remember over and above everything else.
At the grand old age of 27 I am tentatively trying to learn from failure. Rather than seeing it as a reflection of my character (which I'm sure many people are guilty of doing at least once in their lives), I try to see it as a learning curve. Fear of failure has kept me from doing basic things such as speaking up in meetings or trying a new approach to an old task. My inner daemon is still good at heaping on the guilt when I have an idea shot down in a meeting or no-one signed up for an event I had spent weeks preparing for.
Again Psychologies magazine has been a great help in this area. I'm still reluctant to pick up a self help book – perhaps it's because I (still) view admitting I need help as a sign of failure. However Psychologies has interviews with admirable women, fashion tips and a problem page so my self-doubting can perceived it as entertainment rather than self-improvement. Each month I'm reading small chunks of articles that are going towards building my self-esteem. Once I've worked through some of the exercises, I'll share them here.
Having an amplified sense of failure does not help when it comes to writing. Using statistics from Duotrope, one publication I recently submitted work to has a 3% acceptance rate. That leaves a staggering 97% of submissions that are rejected for a number of reasons. Despite the vast numbers of writing publications out there, not everyone gets work published. Does that mean they are all failures? No, it simply means that their work was not suitable for that particular issue. It is rare to get any critiques back from rejection letters – the volume of submissions means editors do not have the time to provide such as service. However, it does lift my spirit when I read a small tid bit of praise within a rejection letter. That is what I need to focus on, not the rejection itself.
In my next post, I'll talk about what I've learned through embracing failure.