On Failure

It’s 2:40am on a Saturday, in Southampton, and I can’t sleep. Because I failed again this week. And indeed again, and again, and again.

A friend of mine (and a few others) have told me that I’m special. That I’m going to go far, and that people need strong personalities like my own, even if it intimidates them. A not even slight secret about me: I’m bad at keeping my mouth shut. If you get me to talk, then I talk a lot, and I do so passionately. And I’m never shy to disagree when I see something that contradicts my values and my viewpoint. Maybe all of that’s why I seem to fail so much when I have to rely on the opinions of other people* to achieve success.

What’s prompted this is that in the Annual General Meeting for the student Entertainment publication of the University of Southampton[‘s Student Union,] The Edge, I lost the race for Film Editor. For the second time in fact. You see, I ran this year against three other writers, one of whom I had run against in 2015. She was in fact the one who was victorious this year, while the three other hopefuls sat down to contemplate things.

But only one of them had to leave the room, for wont of preventing themselves from actually screaming out loud in rage; only one of them could be found shout-rapping the lyrics to King Kunta after they threw their already malfunctioning phone against a building (because it wouldn’t play said song), and the phone lost; only one of them proceeded to punch a wall so hard that their fist still hurt over four hours later, even after consuming two beers in the space of ten minutes. Only one returned to the room of the AGM after 20 minutes of what someone could justifiably call sulking, only to eventually break down into tears at the end of it all.

Zero guesses who that person was.

 

I’m in my second year of my course, and if I wasn’t going on a year abroad to Spain for my third, this would have been my last undergraduate chance at a place on committee for a media society that I deeply love, as well as gently loathe. I can’t help wanting to be in the room where things happen for the society, because it feels like it could be so much easier and less awkward for everyone if I worked to change and improve it from within. Rather than occasionally shouting about it from the outside, desperate to be heard.

I want to be THE EDITOR of The Edge in my final year. Getting a position like that, means running in the campus-wide Spring Elections, and having the support of people on The Edge’s committee, as well as other media societies. Once more however, I’m just another writer, and an increasingly old, irrelevant one. I’m told by some of my favourite people, some of the loveliest people I know, that I have the passion and ideas, that I shouldn’t walk away now because of failure. That I should keep going and try again another time. But right now all of that feels impossible. How far can that passion actually take me, when every single time I try to show it to people, it either scares them or just fails to register? Failure is hard, and what’s as exhausting and difficult to comprehend are the voices that tell you to keep going. Because what if everything I do just keeps on failing me like this? When all the things that I’m truly passionate for (and that I’m as reliant on other people as I am myself for success) continuously fall apart?

This isn’t just about losing a student committee election. This week has sucked:

  • I’m lying to my parents about having finished and submitted a 4000-word essay that was already late (god bless my PAT for giving me Special Considerations when I absolutely need them). Even with the best essay plan I’ve ever had, I’ve still only written 800-1000 words of it.
  • I’m nowhere close to starting the 2000-word essay for my Spanish module, never mind the presentation I’m supposed to give.
  • I have exams in just over two weeks that I’m conveniently also avoiding confronting.
  • I have to fund-raise £1200 by the middle of August, and so far I’m at about £100, give or take (right now I’m going to ask you to please give me money, or at least check my fundraising page).
  • I had to pay over £70 to repair and replace parts of my bike, because a place indoors to store it from rain is far too difficult to get in student housing. And I was too stupid to buy a bike cover in the first place.
  • I injured my foot walking out of my damn house on my way to do a short training run. It feels like it’s getting worse because now it’s not just my toe that twinges when I walk, but the muscles around my left shin as well.
  • With the help of a friend of a girl I have had an unbearably long and large** crush on, I came to the very unsatisfying, and uncomfortable realisation that not only is nothing ever going to happen there, we may not even actually be as good friends as I had thought. I think this one sucked the most, even though it felt like the least important. I already knew this, but I’m getting sick of the same old story of me and my “crushes”.

None of this is to mention that on the 19th of April I had a sudden, unexpected and terrifying lapse into a depressive mood, unlike anything I’d experienced for months. Or how a month and a half ago I lost a Union election for Vice President Welfare – again, seemingly in spite of all that passion, and those ideas. I couldn’t even keep up taking one photo a day for a year, because I missed a day which I never got around to covering for. And no-one seemed to care that it had been a week since I’d uploaded one. So I stopped.

How many times do I have to be told that it’ll work out because I’m “special” when I’ve so rarely felt close to special in my life? How long until the dull weight of disappointment actually kills me? I want what (and who) I want, and I want to believe that I can “have” it. That it will come to me, and that I won’t have to settle for less than what I believe I’m worth. But this constant failure is taking its toll, and never more than when it’s because I wasn’t good enough for other people.

The people close to me tell me I’m special***, but when it’s clearly not enough for everyone else, and I keep failing because of it (even failing myself enough that I stop understanding why on earth anyone thinks anything positive of me ever), do I just stop?


 

It’s at this point in the musical of this piece, the one playing inside of my head, that someone says or does something extra to change my mind. When, like Usnavi in In The Heights, I see that inspirational and cathartic mural of all my dead dreams, and decide to keep fighting to bring them to life anyway, no matter how much harder it might be. And the music swells as I work through every individual issue in an immediate, intricate, intensely personal exploration of all that’s important to my individual, little life.

However like Usnavi, that mural won’t change how I felt at the start of it all. Only remind me of exactly why I’m here. And that what I want is still worth fighting for. For no-one else but myself.

Because the few people who still believe in me are by no means cheering me on blindly – they’re aware of my flaws, the few and the many, and they still want and expect me to succeed, and to chase that success. If I listen to them, and not the voices who tell me I failed because I didn’t compromise who I was and appear palatable, I’ll remember that I don’t need to do that to be good at what I do. I write. I talk. And as hard as I try to see everyone’s viewpoint, if I cannot compromise what I believe, and how I truly am, then I don’t. I shouldn’t, and I won’t. Who said selfish, stubborn self-confidence and self-belief was an ugly characteristic – well they’re not wrong, but it might be all I’ve got until some actual success comes my way.

Alexander Hamilton (founding father of the USA and protagonist of Hamilton, the definitive, highpoint of cultural achievement of the last five years) wrote his way out of poverty, and as much as he wrote his way into trouble, he wrote his way up the ladder. I know I’m neither Hamilton, nor Lin-Manuel Miranda. But that doesn’t matter so much if my friends think I’m at least okay in comparison to those two greats.

So, this conclusion feels exclusively about my writing and about The Edge, but the attitude I need, and the attitude I have to keep with me at all times, applies everywhere. Fundraising, running, essays that I’m still trying finish, and wonderful women. I can’t shy away from these failures, no matter what other people may think of me for them. Because if I want what I want****, I can’t lie about who I am to get it. Nor do I want to.

Fuck it, I have to end this with a quote from Captain America: Civil War:

Compromise where you can. But where you can’t, don’t. – Peggy Carter/Steve Rogers

So then, failure. You might feel more and more like a special kind of cocktease in the retrospect of my life recently. Where, instead of resulting in a lost erection, I am repeatedly punched in the face for being myself (and a damn fine version of it might I add). But guess what?

Yeah, that.

 

 



*Maybe I just suck at dealing with people, but that’s for another pensive episode.

**Never let anyone tell you there’s no room for levity in your boring, Frightened Rabbit soundtracked, sad af blog piece

***it’s at this point I got absolutely sick of the “special snowflake millennial” shit I was writing, because I hate sounding like such an entitled straight white fuckwit of a man. But whatever, I’ve got problems to write about.

****Vague vaguery of vagueness!

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2 thoughts on “On Failure

  1. No one has ever achieved any sort of success ever without failing first. Failure, perceive it as a positive or negative, is a part of success and the truth is you will fail time and time again; we all will and we all do. One of the things you have to ask yourself at this point in your life is whether it’s actually worth it. How bad do you want to be successful? But more importantly what is ‘success’ to you? Is it becoming the Editor of The Edge? Is it reaching your fundraising goals? Is it having luck with your crush? Or is it all of the above?
    It’s important to look at the bigger picture when you’re in what seems like an unavoidable, unbreakable funk. The point is George that this is a brutally honest piece and whilst you may feel all these things very strongly it is so important not to be too hard on yourself, because if you are then you’ll just end up questioning the point in everything which will result in you achieving nothing.

    Nothing worth having comes easy. That’s something that life has proved time and time again. The question is though, are you mentally strong enough to go again? Are you strong enough to pick yourself up and dust yourself down? Do you have it within yourself to look at what lies ahead and dissect it into manageable chunks even though at the time it might feel like you’re getting nowhere? Do you have it within yourself to prove yourself wrong, to act on your disappointments rather than wallow in them?
    It’s not easy. It was never going to be. But it’s possible; everything you want is possible but it’s going to take a while. It’s going to take everything you have. How bad do you want it?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Brutally honest. And Hamilton is amazing. I hope it all works out (and I’m sure it will).

    Like

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