Last week I felt like a failure. It was just a series of events that made me feel this way, like
- my dad getting injured at work and having to go through surgery to fix the injury. It made me feel that I failed to care for him as a daughter (he’s fine now and going through physiotherapy);
- my mom being diagnosed with diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure which made me feel that I failed to care for her as a daughter;
- getting an urgent colonoscopy because I thought I had colon cancer from bleeding from piles (luckily it was a false alarm);
- being in and out of hospitals/clinics due to all these assorted issues and waiting for hours each time, sometimes getting terrible service;
- not being able to get to my to-do’s because of all these things going on;
- having a nagging cough that had me coughing my lungs out, along with a bad flu and fever;
- in general, a series of things not going my way.
That night as my husband and I got ready to sleep, I said, “I feel like a failure.” He immediately said, “Don’t say that. You are feeling this way because you set very high expectations for every single little thing you do. But it’s not possible to live up to such high standards for every single little thing without a margin of error. It’s okay to be imperfect in what we do. We are all imperfect.”
For some reason, I felt better after hearing that. So even though I was coughing my lungs out and couldn’t sleep past a few hours, I woke up feeling better. While I’m still recovering from my cough, I know that a positive attitude is the only way forward and I’m looking forward to what’s ahead.
Maybe you have been feeling shitty about yourself. Maybe some events have been making you feel like a failure. I want you to know that you aren’t alone. Today, I want to share some tips to help you through this tough time.
1) You’re not a failure
Firstly, please know that you’re not a failure. You aren’t a failure because you are already a winner by being on Earth. What do I mean?
Did you know that before you were born, you were in the biggest race of your life? 250 millions of sperms raced up a cervix and “fought” to penetrate the egg inside. One sperm outlasted the 250 million other folks, successfully penetrated the egg, and fused with it to become a zygote, eventually becoming a fetus. This fetus is… you.
Why were there so many sperms needed? Firstly, the distance between the female birth canal and the fallopian tube may seem small to us (18 cm), but to a wee little sperm that’s 0.05 mm in length (can’t even be seen without a microscope), that’s one hell of a race. Most sperms never make it through this journey; it takes a champion to “swim” all the way through this distance that’s 3600 times its length. Secondly, the human egg has a hard outer layer that makes fertilization difficult. Experts believe this is nature’s way of allowing only the healthiest sperm to fertilize it, thereby producing a baby with the best chances to survive in the world. Well, this baby is you. 🙂
So the next time you think you are a failure, remember that you outdid 250 million others for your chance in life — odds even lower than winning the lottery. You have always been a champion — even before you were born. You just didn’t know it. Now you do. 🙂
2) It’s okay to be imperfect
Sometimes we feel sh*tty about ourselves because we failed certain standards. Maybe we made a mistake that shouldn’t be made. Maybe we failed to achieve a certain result we were expecting. Maybe we feel that we could have done better in something, and the worse thing? Maybe it’s not something reversible.
To this, I want you to know that it’s okay to be imperfect. Just because you don’t achieve certain “standards” doesn’t mean you are a failure. It just means that there is something new to learn, something to improve on. And that’s the beauty of life — to learn, grow, and improve upon who we were yesterday. Life would be quite boring if we never faced any obstacles; it would also mean that we aren’t pushing ourselves hard enough, wouldn’t it? And if you ask me, perfection and imperfection are just mental concepts. We are already perfect, as ourselves. We improve not to become “perfect,” but to achieve a better, higher version of us than before.
For me, I realized through this episode that I tended to have very harsh expectations of myself and feel extremely bad whenever I didn’t live up to said standards. Yet, it’s unnatural, even impossible, to live up to such staunch expectations all the time. One, I’m a human, not a robot. (Plus, even a robot malfunctions / makes mistakes.) Two, my expectations are impossibly strict, because I always expect nothing less than the best from myself. This is true be it for highly important or little things. Yet, no one can thrive in the face of such standards. It’s a matter of time before one crumbles, even dies, under such immense scrutiny.
By learning that it’s okay not to meet expectations sometimes and it’s more important that I learn and improve, I realized that there was no “failure” to speak of, just a learning point. My misery came from being impossibly hard on myself, and by releasing myself of such expectations, I suddenly felt happier.
Read: How to Overcome Perfectionism (3-part series)
3) Work on improving the situation
We all have the tendency to think “It’s all my fault” when something goes wrong. However, instead of “It’s all my fault” or “I’m a failure,” I recommend you to ask yourself, “What can I do to improve this situation?”
In my recent Celes.TV video How to Stay Positive All the Time, I shared how I switched from negativity to action when I learnt about my dad’s injury. Instead of needlessly self-reproaching, I focused on improving the situation through action. First, I returned to my parents’ home right away and offered support. Then, I assisted my brother with administrative stuff. Next, I assisted with hospital visits and was there with my dad the whole time (along with our family). Last but not least, I helped out in the medical bills with my brother.
With my mom’s diagnosis, it’s the same — instead of feeling needlessly negative, I focused on improving the situation by encouraging my mom about her condition, advising her on what she can/can’t eat, helping out with some of the medical costs, accompanying her on the clinic visits, and returning home to visit my parents more often. Instead of being impatient, I’ve become more supportive and patient in our communications. I realized that there’s no point in being snappy or rude in our conversations; it really achieves nothing. What’s best is to be sensitive to their (our parents’) needs and to speak from the heart. (Read: How to Improve Your Relationship with Your Parents)
If you’re feeling bad about something now, stop beating yourself up. Not only does it not change things, it only leaves you worse off with nothing changed in reality. Think about how to improve this situation instead. What is one thing, just one thing, you can do to make things better? Get started with that first. Things may not change overnight but at least this one step will move things forward. It will pave the way for more to follow.
4) Stop comparing yourself with others
Sometimes the feeling “I’m a failure” comes when we compare ourselves with others. I know there are times when I see other websites, online personalities doing much better than me and it makes me nervous, inferior because I’d feel like I’m not doing my best to pursue my passion. It makes me wish that I were doing more to reach out to more people and make a bigger impact in their lives.
However, have you heard of this saying? “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid,” ~ Albert Einstein. I have realized that everyone is ultimately different. While some may be excelling with Approach A, that doesn’t mean that it’s an approach I want to use or that it’s aligned with my beliefs. Rather than beat myself up and feel like a failure, I’ve learned that it’s more important to stay true to who I am and do what works for me while relentlessly growing toward my vision — without making self-defeating comparisons with others.
Are you comparing yourself with others? Are you feeling inferior over such comparisons? If so, stop. What are your own ambitions, passions? Work on these and shine in your own light. Everyone has different paths in life. Your goal isn’t to be the same as others. Your goal is to be you and to be the best you.
5) Don’t subject yourself to others’ judgment
While I was writing this post, I got this comment on Facebook:
This reminded me of another comment I got recently:
Receiving such comments makes me sad because ultimately I write every day to connect, not to alienate or offend. But I’ve also learned that there are tons of judgment in the world and you can’t please everyone. If I had ever based my self-worth on such negative feedback, then I would be a “wh*re,” “prostitute,” “b*tch,” and “idiot” according to these comments — and that’s from writing articles and creating content to help others grow.
If you’re receiving negative criticism right now, I hope you stay strong and not let such comments change your perception of you. Because there are always going to be nasty people out there; people who are unhappy, bitter no matter what you say or do. The best thing is to cut out naysayers while surrounding yourself with the people who appreciate you. There are many people who believe in you and love what you do. Don’t let the naysayers pull you down because if you do, you’d be doing a real disservice to the people who value you and your work.
6) Know that things will get better
Even though we can do our best, bad things can still happen sometimes. For example, getting retrenched, losing your investments in a bad economy, losing a friend, losing a partner, or even, losing a loved one.
I can’t claim to know what you are going through. All I want you to know is that things will get better. Not by sitting around and doing nothing, but by allowing yourself to grief, pick up the pieces, and move on. Not by beating yourself up and numbing your soul, but by knowing that there are sometimes things we can’t control, but yet we can still make the best out of what we have, out of life.
2 years ago, PE reader Kimberly lost her dad. She was utterly crushed and life as she knew lost its meaning. I remembered Kim from the PE courses she participated in before; she has such an amazing spirit and spoke so fondly of her dad all the time because they were so close. Kim wrote a letter to Ask Celes seeking help and I posted this reply. In the post, I shared that her dad wouldn’t want her to feel this way and that while he isn’t in the physical realm now, she still has other loved ones around her. Her husband, other family members, friends, and of course, her baby daughter. These are people every bit worth living and pursuing her goals for. And of course, who can forget Kim herself? Kim is the center of her own life, the one person who has been making all her dreams and goals possible. If there’s just one person to live for, it should be she herself, first and foremost.
Fast forward a year later, Kim emailed me with an update. Not only has she landed an amazing career (an editor for a newspaper in town), she has doubled her income and spends all her time taking photos of people in events (one of her passions is photography), writing, and putting together the paper read by her entire city! She had also been studying photography and would have a diploma for it next month. Not forgetting Kim’s baby daughter — at the point of her email, she was turning 2 and continues to inspire Kim each day.
To you, maybe things aren’t that great for you now. Please hang in there. Please don’t give up hope. Because what seems like a lousy period is likely nothing more than a momentary down point. There are ups and downs in life; while we may look forward to the up times, it’s the down times that make us wiser, stronger, so that we can make the up times happen. Use this current down time to take stock and regroup so that you can create a better future moving forward.
7) Step into life
Last but not least, step into life.
When we enter into a “I’m a failure” or “I hate myself” funk, it’s easy to recede into a cocoon. Not talk to anyone. Not reach out. Not work on our goals. Not get anything done. Not be in contact with humanity. And disappear into a hole.
If this is your way of recharging, go ahead and do that. It’s important to have down times to take stock. However, don’t do this for too long. Firstly, the world needs you for your talents. You may not realize it, but when you recede into your hole, you deprive the universe of something that only you can give. Secondly, as humans, we don’t exist as lone units. We are all part of this world. When we cut ourselves from others / the world, it may feel “safe,” even relieving at first. However, over time, it’ll only eat us on the inside as we deprive ourselves of our real energy sources — human contact, our personal growth, and the ability to affect the world with our talents. Just like a flower will wither and die when cut off of its nutrient source, a person can’t thrive when deprived of the very fundamentals of a meaningful, spiritually fulfilling existence.
So, step into the light. Get out there and meet people. Embrace your goals; take bold actions toward them. You create your future and you do that with the actions you take today (not with the actions or non-actions from yesterday). I look forward to supporting you every step of the way with PE. 🙂
Last but not least, remember: you are not a failure. You are a winner. Have been and will continue to be, as long as you never stop believing in you and never give up. Never forget that.
And remember that I love you and will always support you in everything you do. I just thought you needed to hear that. Thank you.
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