I have failed. Now I’ve said it.
Today’s world is the world of success stories. Whenever there’s a job application, there’s a narrative of success. Education, work experience, achievements. Sometimes I wish someone would ask about the failures. These are the things I learned the most from and that have changed me the most. Failure can feel like an overwhelming burden to carry alone and that is why I think the idea behind the first International Day for Failure that was held yesterday on Oct 13, is a brilliant one.
“Supporters behind the campaign include the Chairman of Nokia and Shell Jorma Ollila , Minister of Economic Affairs Jyri Häkämies, the man behind the success of Angry Birds, Rovio’s Peter Vesterbacka and Finnish Innovation Fund.” -pr.newswire.com
I noticed that a lot of people are participating by sharing their stories of failure. It really is scary to do since the biggest thing about failure is often what others think. For example, it is often not the fear of financial failure itself that frightens us, but what others might think about it. Loosing opportunities in the future because of past failures. Or trying something stupid, and being typecast as a fool for life. Taking a risk, and falling flat on our faces.
So, with that risk in mind, here are some of my stories of failure, big and small:
1. I still haven’t finished my Master’s thesis. Writing this down as a failure makes me determined and make it a victory instead of a failure. I loved working on it, attended the final seminars in 2007-2008, submitted my papers and had completed 60% of the work, and then…
2. I let grief take over my life. This, though probably my biggest failure, is also my biggest victory. I survived and can laugh again. Mourning is the hardest thing I have ever gone through, but I can say I am a stronger person today because of it. I regret being paralyzed by grief and dropping everything in my life. At the same time though, I can understand how others deal with cancer in the family and how grief is a path that everyone just has to travel through – there really is no right way, and every way is equally hard. It is the living afterwards that is the real challenge, not isolating yourself and trusting that there still is life ahead.
3. Ah, language failures (I could write a book about these). Language is very important to me, and I have tons of little failures. When I lived in Sweden, I had to do a course assignment with a girl from Skåne. Since Swedish is not my native language, I found it really hard to understand anything she said (the Skåne dialect is really heavy, closer to Danish) and after a while, I just started saying ‘yes’ to everything. She probably thought I was an idiot, which I indeed was. After moving to Toronto, I still can’t spell my own name in English and get scared every time someone asks me to do it (not because I don’t know how to write my name, but because spelling is something I just am not used to – in Finnish one sound equals one letter, which means you really don’t need to spell words out loud beyond first grade, not even when learning a new language). Once during an important call at work, a Very Important Person on the line didn’t hear me. He asked me to spell my name over and over again and I said, multiple times, that my last name starts with an -f as in pharaoh (Faarao in Finnish) – FFFFFF!. I just can’t do the ‘M as in monkey, Z as in zebra’-thing. A as in albino, B an in bullet, C as in carnivore, D as in devil (this is how my brain does it!). F as in FAIL.
I also struggle to remember my own phone number and have had minor fails regarding this so many times. Dates too escape my memory, especially when asked ‘for identity verification purposes’. I’m known to forget even my birthday and age. This happened just yesterday when I called to activate my credit card:
VISA representative: Ma’am, I’m going to ask you some questions for identity verification purposes. Is that okay?
Mari: Yes, go ahead. (She’s going to ask for my date of birth. Remember your birthday rememberyourbirthday rememberyourbirthday…)
VISA Rep: How old are you?
Mari: What?? How old? (*Panic* Oh my god, how old am I? My god, she’ll think I am not myself. I can’t be me and not know my age! It doesn’t make any sense! Go on, say something at least) I… I DON’T KNOW!!
VISA rep: You don’t know?
Mari: NO! I do! Wait. (2012minus1982equals30) I’m thirty! (survived! but oh no, when was I born? And where?)
Also, I am working on projects now that might result in failure, and this frightens me so much that sometimes I fail in trying, if that makes sense. I have also got rejections for my writing, which is disappointing every time, but that is just a part of trying.
Sharing failure feels quite strange but good. After all, it’s not all that serious – only life.
-Mari (M (as in Mastodon) A (as in Algebra) R (as in Revenge) I (as in Indonesia))