why i welcome failure and rejection

I’ve failed at lots of things. Year 8 textiles for example. I can’t sew on a button, nor do I remember any of the parts of a sewing machine that my teacher so persistently tried to make me learn.

I’ve failed the odd maths exam.

I failed my learner’s driving test the first time round. It was a multiple choice quiz on road rules. I am the only person I know who failed it.

I have failed at relationships and torn apart friendships.

I frequently fail to understand or apply ‘proper’ social etiquette and I never got the dating rules memo. Luckily for me, my partner doesn’t care. He thought it was endearing that I managed to get drunk on Sake 10 minutes into our first date!

I have also faced a lot of rejection.

I was 11 the first time I experienced rejection. I had applied for a scholarship at an expensive private high school and spent a couple of months preparing for the entrance exam. When I got in there however, I panicked and couldn’t remember a lot of what I’d learnt. I also didn’t finish the creative writing section. Needless to say, my scholarship application was unsuccessful.

Since then, I have been rejected by lovers. Tens of would-be employers. A bank over a goddamn credit card application!

I also know that I will face a lot more rejection and failure throughout my life. And I don’t mind a bit.

Here’s why: I don’t measure my value as a person by my ability to achieve things.

It hasn’t always been this way. When I was 11, I felt as though I must be stupid for failing to get the scholarship. When I was 17 I came to the same conclusion when my final high school grades weren’t as high as I had hoped. When I got low marks on my first few law exams, I also felt pretty worthless.

Our society worships at the altar of success. We are hungry for it. And when we fail to be successful, it is difficult to escape the feeling that we are somehow lesser because of it.

The irony is that success in itself doesn’t automatically lead to happiness and contentment. Sometimes success makes us feel unhappy, scared, anxious, over-worked and trapped. Sometimes we think we want something only to discover that when we obtain it, the reality is very different to the dream. Sometimes we have guided our internal compass to other people’s definitions of success.

Failure and rejection aren’t measures of us. In fact I think trying to define and value ourselves by any yard stick is risky, if not impossible. We humans are subtle, complicated and fluid beings. We are an intricate tapestry of emotions and ideas that ripple and shift over time. Our values change, our skills and abilities change, our priorities change.

So failure and rejection do not speak of our essential self. Not at all. Rather, failure and rejection are welcoming beacons which we can use to guide our way. The dead-end paths and locked doors that guide us in the choose-your-own-adventure of life.

If we fail at something that doesn’t fulfil us, then we have been rescued from continuing drudgery. If we are rejected from something we thought we wanted, chances are something better is coming along. And if we fail at something we love, we can retreat, reassess and try again.

Cathy Collautt was a guest on Marie Forleo’s YouTube channel a couple of weeks ago and she said this: “Success and failure are not two separate roads…success and failure are on the same road…just picture success as further down that road.” I agree. To a point.

Success is further down the road when the failure relates to something we love, something we know we want to do, something that lights us up. When we fail at something that we didn’t really want anyway, that doesn’t make us happy or serve our higher purpose, there is no use pushing through. Just enjoy the sweet relief that you can stop.

How do you feel about failure and rejection? Do you find yourself measuring your self-worth by success or failure?