This is a word and concept that, being brutally honest, has haunted most of my life. In this discussion of social constructs, it is always important to be able to separate the personal from things that may be the broader common origins of this idea. I considered myself to have had depressive tendencies from my teens. These tendencies mean that my mind tends to hold certain sensations. It feels low, and the conscious mind looks for things to justify the feeling. Failure, along with rejection, are the weapons of choice in the minds of most depressives. What is a failure, though? What purpose does the construct serve, and how do we use this idea to educate?
Two opposite concepts, both true. We are endlessly complex, the result of 3 billion years of evolution and a lifetime of experiences that have played on each other to create something utterly unique. In contrast, we all (with very few exceptions) have the same basic drives and emotional states. Failure, for example, is a function of sex. Not some sort of Freudian reference (although there are probably lots at this point); instead, this is an evolutionary one. We compete with each other to find a mate or to have resources to support them. As with most behaviours, this drive has emotions that push us towards these goals and others that dissuade us from different paths. We know these as success and failure.
Success gives us pleasure, and as so it can be addictive in nature. That does not make it an inherently bad thing, only that it needs understanding and managing to avoid the most dangerous ‘all-consuming’ elements. I know I have made the mistake of believing that success would somehow remove the sense of failure. It doesn’t. Instead chasing success in whatever form, can become its own goal because it creates another construct, purpose. Without that drive, that chase of a goal there is nothing, or worse there is the sense of failure that haunts you if you ever stay still for long enough.
Success and failure are their own related but very different pathways. We frame them as two sides of the same thing, but there is one missing element from those calculations: other people. Once our sense of success or failure becomes associated with how others think or feel, we lose control.
In his poem ‘If’, Rudyard Kipling said, ‘if you can meet with triumph or disaster and treat those two imposters both then same‘.
Well, they are both constructs, and they both have the same three parts to their solution.
The first is to reframe them in terms of you rather than others. It is ok to be your own critic, but as with all advise (be it from others or from your own emotional state) it should be used as tool to help you get better rather than ever taking it personally. That means either use it or ignore it as unhelpful.
The second is to actively look for the little successes. The everyday things, because enjoying things is a success and the more you can do this then the more pressure it takes off those bigger goals.
The second is to embrace them, to own them. Our successes and failures are part of that same journey. They are the money in the bank, the credit we have earned and can be used in the same way. To enjoy things as we try to improve things around us
For those of us who keep a sense of failure almost as a constant shadow these steps won’t mean that those fears will disappear altogether. By putting a conscious effort to shift the patterns of our behaviour though, we can keep them at bay while enjoying ourselves a little more, don’t you think?