The Fun of Failure

Today is one of those days when I take a walk down memory lane and tell you all about the time I failed at something after giving it my 100%.

In my January Favourites, I told you about the 'Happier with Gretchen Rubin' podcast that I've been loving. In Episode 19, Gretchen and her sister Elizabeth discuss what it means to "enjoy the fun of failure". That reminded me of a time when I worked my ass off at something and still failed pretty hard. I immediately went to Shane and asked him if he remembered that time. Surprisingly, he did. And he also confessed that with the amount of hard work he saw me put into it, he had no doubt that I would succeed. Boy, were we in for a huge disappointment.

The year was 2012. I was preparing for a very tough exam which, had I gotten through, would have completely changed my life. It was a subject I loved, a field I thought I wanted to dedicate my life to, and at a university that a person like me would die to get into. I prepared for months. If I remember correctly, I prepared for close to a year. And for the three months leading up to the exam, I followed a rigorous routine. I woke up at a fixed time every morning, I went out for a morning walk, had my breakfast on getting back and got to my preparation at 9 a.m sharp. And I never went to bed before reading/revising all the topics I had marked out for the day. Every. Single. Day. There were many days where I just wanted to take a break and do nothing, but I had made a promise to myself to show up every day. So I showed up at my desk, opened my books, studied, made notes, explained my syllabus to imaginary people, and willed myself to do what I called "my part". There's a saying I learned growing up - Thaan paadi Devam paadi - which means you do half the work and God takes care of the rest. My interpretation was that I'd do all the work I possibly could and God would take care of the rest. This was also a phase of my life when I prayed with discipline. Every afternoon before my lunch break, I'd sit down and pray. This prayer was more of a conversation with myself where I'd assure myself of my goals.

Finally, I gave the exam and I can say with conviction that I haven't given a single exam that made me feel so good about myself. I could answer all the questions with clarity and my handwriting was the best ever on that answer sheet. I still remember that my mother was out of station on the day of the exam and my dad was the one who picked me up. And I told him, "I have given my everything to this exam. I gave it my 100%. If I still don't get through, at least I won't regret not working hard enough".

The results came and as you already know, I'd failed. It was a huge shock to my system and a massive blow to my ego. I always thought I was a smart kid (at least in my chosen field) and up until that point, did relatively well even without such rigorous preparation. I was hurt and angry because I didn't know whom to blame. I couldn't understand what had gone wrong because I did everything I could physically, mentally and emotionally do to get what I wanted. It was one of those situations where you can only speculate the cause of your failure and not have clear-cut answers. Almost like, "how is she such a popular actress without any talent whereas he's super-talented but still underrated?". You never know the answers to such things.

Five years down the line, I actually sat down and thought about this failure and the impact it has had on my life. And here's what I know - my life is better for it. That time of preparation was truthfully not a happy time of my life. It was a slow and frustrating time. Although I thought I loved what I was doing, I was beginning to hate it. It was beginning to drain my energy, motivation and will to keep going. It was turning into a mundane chore that I didn't enjoy. And had I passed that exam, my whole life "dedicated" to this field would have turned into a mundane, boring, monotonous existence which I would have come to resent. And had I kept at it with the stubbornness to somehow succeed, I'd have had to let go of many happy things in my life including...Shane. There's no way in hell I would have either moved away from my project to be with him or let him leave his dream job to be with me. I would have been stubbornly unhappy. And that's a horrible way to live.

Thankfully, after failing, I didn't let my stubbornness get the better of me and go back to my preparation. Thankfully, I let it go instead of wasting another year of my life trying to pass the exam. Imagine if I did get through the second time around! It would have ruined my life. And one thing that helped me decide to let it go was the knowledge deep down that I had nothing more to offer. I was sure in my heart that I had given it my 100% and that if I still failed, it was just not meant to be.

And that lesson has been very valuable to me. Now, with every project I start, I give my 100%. I show up every day, I work hard on it, and I trust my gut feeling. If working hard on something makes me feel too stressed or demotivated, if it makes me want to just take a break and stop, I listen to those feelings and accept my failure because doing something that doesn't feel right in my heart only makes me miserable. And finally, after doing everything I possibly could to succeed, if I still fail, I've learned to accept that it was just not for me and that's perfectly okay.

And like Aphrodite mentioned in the comments the other day when I shared that I'll write short stories again when I genuinely feel like it,

The compulsion to do anything solely for your happiness is truly the best compulsion ever. So, pay attention to your feelings and enjoy the little takeaways from your failures. Sometimes, some things are not meant to be. And the best way to find out is by actually giving them your 100% for a considerable length of time and backing away with grace when you realise that your hard work isn't paying off. And maybe, like me, 5 years down the line, you'll see how much better your life turned out to be as a result of not being stubborn about something that wasn't working or making you happy in the first place.

I feel that life is too short to force things and to be unhappy in what you do.

So on that note, have a great day! I'll see you tomorrow :)

Image Courtsey