Why It's Ok to Fail

photo credit @rawpixel

photo credit @rawpixel

Lately I’ve been reflecting on failure. Society seems to shun failure, even though many successful people credit failure as essential to refine, develop resilience and practice compassion. I know for myself, failure has helped to steer me back on course in life. For example, failing an exam whilst jet-lagged in New Zealand meant that I didn’t end up relocating there after all and rediscovered that life in London was already pretty good. However, it doesn’t make it easy to fail. 

I’ve noticed that women, in particular, are so scared of failure. I suspect it comes from early conditioning to follow the rules and ‘be good girls’. The logical path is that if you follow the steps, you can’t fail.

There’s so much focus on success that when things don’t ‘go to plan’, it can be devastating. 

Failure has a lot of shaming and blaming associated with it that can be hard to swallow.

There’s a great new podcast called ‘How to Fail’ with journalist Elizabeth Day. In a recent episode with Gina Miller, she talked about a number of failures in her life such as failing law school, and failing 2 marriages. It’s so healthy and refreshing to hear about that the not-so-revered-aspects of someones’ life, especially when there’s the perspective of what they learned and gained from the experience.

Failure in Women’s Health

In the field of women’s health, the medical jargon around failure is a minefield. It’s a word with an accusatory finger, that many women take personally. In the situations below, there can be a number of factors that affect the outcome, yet the woman can feel like it’s her fault.

-Failed contraceptive

-Failure to conceive naturally.

-Assisted reproductive techniques (ART) may be used, but there can be a failure in collecting enough eggs, or failure in developing to blastocyst (5-day embryo) stage, or failure of the embryo to implant in the womb.

-During a frozen IVF cycle there can be a failure in thawing, which means the whole cycle has to be abandoned.

-Failed pregnancy resulting in miscarriage.

-Despite best intentions, there can be a multitude of issues in the birth that affect the outcome such as a ‘failure to go into labour, failure to progress, or failure to have the planned birth experience.

-Failed home birth or failed natural birth.

-Failure to have a ’normal birth’. How offensive! A medicated birth or instrumental delivery or caesarean section are all birth experiences that should be acknowledged and celebrated, rather than making a woman feel like some sort of alien or incomplete human.

-And if that’s not enough, there can be a ‘failure to bond’, failure to ‘get back’ to the pre-pregnancy weight and ‘failure to breastfeed’. 

When you look at the list above its little wonder that women are often scarred for the long-term after their experiences. It has an impact on emotional and mental health. Subsequent failures chain together in the way that scar tissue gathers layer over layer. Feelings of failure can create separation between people as can be witnessed in many a heated online forum discussing breastfeeding or birth.

How to Deal with Failure

Often when I am treating a client, I will reframe words around failure. Words matter, and carry vibration in the body. Being conscious with our language can help to feel lighter and less responsible for everything that we have experienced. For example, instead of saying that an IVF cycle failed, reframe it that the cycle didn’t work this time. This removes the sting of the word, and also keeps an openness to it working in the future.

Where do you feel failure in your body? It’s possibly in the pit of your belly or deep in your chest. Get curious about how it feels. Is it a tightening? A knot? Does it have movement or does it feel wooden or stuck? Place your hand on this area of your body. Breathe into this area. See if it shifts in any way.

If you’ve experienced something where you feel like you failed, write about it. Ideally by hand as it’s more closely associated with the body and feelings. Don’t edit yourself, let your thoughts flow. You can read what you’ve written if you choose to. Or I’m a fan of tearing up the pages and either burning them or as a way of clearing stuck energy.

Or you might want to talk to a trusted person. You can set a timer for 5 minutes or 10 minutes- whatever you choose. The listener is there to listen, not weigh in with opinion. This is your time where you can just express without judgement or advice. The gift of being truly heard is really powerful.

Quotes about Failure

Albert Einstein: “Failure is success in progress”

“Success is most often achieved by those who don't know that failure is inevitable.” - Coco Chanel

“Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” - Denis Waitley

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