Stop talking like this. Stop it. Now.
Failure. Success. These are absolutes that exist on opposite sides of a ruthless spectrum, and I’m going to tell you a secret I’ve learned from spending time with people who have both failed and succeeded in extreme ways: both feel exactly the same. Extreme failure, and extreme success are both isolating, alienating and draining. We think extreme success will make us happy. It doesn’t. We think extreme failure means the world will end. It doesn’t. Life goes on either way, and giving yourself only two options of how to be in life is like being on some kind of circus ride roller coaster from hell. When you’re up you’re totally up, and when you’re down you’re careening towards the earth at speeds the human brain isn’t built to travel. Either way, there’s probably a bad photo of you screaming somewhere, and maybe you’ve puked blue slushie on yourself. Extremes, they are. Success!!!! – choral voices and trumpets. Failure!!!! – Deep organ notes and drums. This is not a life. This is a Broadway musical. It needs intervals and snacks and remember, it’s just a show. You want to get off that paradigm rollercoaster.
Sure, it’s good to want things.
To want more for yourself, to want to quit bad habits, to be a better version of yourself. To evolve, to grow. But growth takes time, repetition, discipline, patience. You wouldn’t expect a kid who’s learning to play tennis to hit the ball perfectly first time, would you? Maybe you would, if you came from the kind of home that never let you make mistakes. Maybe you had an overbearing angry parent in there that didn’t love if you didn’t get things right, because they weren’t loved unless they got things right. Maybe you didn’t get the attention you needed if you weren’t good at things. Life can be fucking unfair. But you don’t have to keep thinking this way. It’s never too late to be fair with yourself. Or at least, to start trying.
You can do this by loving yourself no matter what happens.
First things first, turn around and stand up to that bully inner voice, the one that tells you you’re a failure whenever you don’t get it right, first time. Wave your finger at it. Tell it to stop throwing a tantrum because it doesn’t get what it wants, instantly. “Either you love me whether I succeed or fail, or you fuck off!” you tell it. “Because I love me no matter what happens.” And then you swagger off into the sunset of your weary psyche.
Okay well, maybe not quite. Rather, be kind to it. Treat it the way you want to be treated. You can say something like, “Look, I know you think that calling me a failure is some kind of tough love that’s going to help me achieve my goals. I used to agree. But now I think we need to agree to disagree. It’s okay if you want to keep shouting at me. I’m going to choose to love myself, even if you think I’m a failure.”
Eventually the voice will stop shouting at you. Or it might not. But even if it does, there will be plenty of other voices out there in the world which will tell you how much of a failure you are, in all kinds of ways. But that’s okay. You can keep deciding to agree to disagree. You can choose for yourself what your terms of success are, and separate them from your happiness and self-worth. Just choosing to love yourself in a world that constantly gives you reasons not to, is a pretty glorious success in itself. And it is a choice. You are worthy of love, no matter what you achieve, or don’t achieve. No matter what you’ve been told. Fact.
That’s easier said than done, the voice is probably saying now. And it’s right about that.
Most things are hard until you’re used to doing them. Just try anything you’re not good at. Running. Playing guitar. Writing. It’s all hard, until you’ve done it enough to make it not hard. The same goes for loving and valuing yourself, no matter what. Chances are you’ll still feel insecure and weepy and anxious for approval and desperate to succeed, even after repeating this to yourself a thousand times over. But persevering – despite – has its own rewards. You’ll build up this sparkling, crackling, burning thing inside you, which the mystics call inner power, and suddenly what other people think of you won’t matter as much. The more you practice, the brighter and more sparkly this thing will burn, regardless of whether you lose the extra weight, or win the award, or write the book. And then somewhere along the line, you probably will get those things done. But when you accomplish the achievements you once yearned for, you probably won’t even care. Because now your sense of validation will come from inside you.
Doing something over and over, even when you feel scared, even when it seems pointless, even when you think you’re getting nowhere, has a kind of soothing effect.
It helps you learn that you can rely on yourself, even when everything’s going wrong, including you. Even when the bully voice in your head tells you you’ll never be good enough, that you’ll never get it right. Even when you eat a whole cake in bed, just when you’d had a week of good eating and yoga. You start to be able to trust that you can wipe up those cake crumbs, sleep off the sugar hangover and put your running shoes on in the morning. And off you’ll plod, one foot in front of the other. Not because you’re burning off cake calories, but because you’re going back to your decision to choose to value yourself, no matter what. Because that’s what you do now. That’s who you are.
How boring does that sound? I know, it is boring. That’s because being a functional human being who reaches their goals is boring. It’s less drama, more tedious labor. It’s one foot in front of the other, every day. And as boring as routine sounds, it also gets rid of a lot of the distractions that are holding you back from being the person you want to be. It can help you see things clearly, to see what’s really going on in your life. And this is the scary part. It can help you feel. But I mean, really, really feel.
Respect yourself enough to honor your pain.
A lot of us have been brought up to be quiet about what’s really bothering us. Like a creep in the street, society is constantly telling us to ‘Smile, bitch!’. So we cover it up with more palatable problems, ones that are easier for other people to cope with. Visually, mentally. We ball up our emotions until they’re compacted into neat little disorders that trip us up, over and over. You know those giant compactors you see at metal scrap yards, the ones that pick up cars with their super magnets and then crush them into giant clanky cubes? We tend to do that with our pain, squashing it into things like eating disorders, drug addictions, shopping addictions, or anything else that helps us numb what we’re really feeling. Just as long as we don’t burden ourselves – or anybody else – with the deep, dark twisty stuff that’s really going on. And then we spend years and years practicing this Immaculate Deception, vaguely aware that we’re driving a crushed up can of scrap metal that’s clanking down a highway filled with potholes, and at some point we’re going to crash. So three days before the 31st of December we make a list of ‘New Year’s Resolutions’. Then we zero in on that compacted square of pain in all its clanked up scrap metal glory and try to unravel it overnight. [Narrator’s voice: good luck with that.]
Here’s the thing: You’re going to fail.
You will, some days. And some days, you’re going to succeed. Change and growth is like a spiritual Cha-Cha, one that you learn as you go, and a dance that changes as you grow. The trick is not to look at any of the other dancers, and if you do, remember that some are beginners, some have been dancing longer than you, and also, some are drunk. Staying on your feet is a win. Falling at times is a guarantee. So no. If you haven’t accomplished your goals within the first few days of setting them, you’re not a failure. You’re just like everyone else, and you’re a hero for trying. As someone more famous and more important than me said, you only fail when you stop trying. And if that sounds like some irritating piece of Pinterest-advice, make yourself this promise:
The next time I fail, I’m only going to try one more time.
Repeat into infinity.