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What Is It Like To Fail?

What is it like to fail?

Whatever your politics it was hard not to feel sorry for the Prime Minister, Teresa May, last week, as she resigned having ‘failed to deliver Brexit’. 

Failure – facing it or fearing it – stalks the therapy room. Failed relationships, failed careers, failed dreams. All these bring us to the psychotherapist’s couch. As western humans we seem to believe that failure is something that just shouldn’t happen and should be avoided at all costs. And when it comes, failure brings crippling shame, bitterness and regret in its wake. 

As a counselling client I have raged against my own failures as if they were some personal insult delivered directly to me by an uncaring universe. And worse, I have turned bitterly against myself as if somehow I could have or should have avoided life’s inevitable compromises, losses and mistakes. 

History may congratulate Teresa May for her extraordinary resilience, or it may condemn her for her equally extraordinary stubbornness. But let’s not kid ourselves that she, or we, could have magically avoid things going wrong if we had just done, thought or said something different. 

Sometimes failure is inevitable – therapy helps us grieve this fact. Then, when our distress has been deeply heard and held, therapy helps us accept our vulnerabilities and imperfections and find a way forward which carries them with us rather than consigning them to outer darkness. 

This is not an easy journey. I still cling to the hope that one day everything will be perfect. But after a lot of help and a lot of work I’m quite proud of the catalogue of so-called failures I’ve experienced. If we are not afraid to fail, then ‘failure’ loses all its power over us. Hopefully Teresa May knows this too.

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