The Life Changing Magic of Screwing Up.
There’s a lot of ‘Life Changing Magic’ around at the moment. You may of heard of Sarah Knights' bestselling self-help/humour book ‘The Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a Fuck’- (which also has a matching TED Talk if you're interested!..) or ‘The Life Changing Magic of Tidying up’ by Marie Kondo. I have just finished reading this and much to my disappointment, the 'KonMari' method did not work on me. I’m still a hoarder with a floor-drobe and an apartment that’s only ever tidy when someone I fancy might be coming over. So, I thought I’d wade in with my own version and introduce you to; The Life Changing Magic of Screwing Up.
Failure or 'screwing it all up' is never a fun or easy experience. Moving along a spectrum, failure can be anything from an 'oops messed that up a bit' to paralysing humiliation and soul-destroying shame. No one really wants either, but once you've cried your tears, wallowed in the mud of self-pity, chewed on a few lemons, and managed to wrestle off the shame gremlins, there are personal benefits - which can often outweigh anything you gain from constant success.
At first failure will make you afraid, then it will make you brave.
Welcome to the The Anxiety Paradox. The origin of anxiety is in the fear of what could happen - what we can imagine. If your whole life goes perfectly; every plan, every exam, every relationship, every frigging poached egg – you'd think this would make a person less anxious, but consistent perfection actually fuels anxiety rather than eases it, making it quite the opposite. Anxiety is (amongst many other things..) composed of; 1) a fear of the unknown and 2) a belief we won't be able to handle whatever said unknown is. Metaphorically, this pretty much sums what I'm trying to explain here; The higher you climb - the further to fall...but if you've never fallen - you've haven't found out you can fly yet. Failure will show you your wings and in turn, show you how resilient you can be. You don't find that out from only ever lurching from success to success. Once you've waded through the difficult part, you will access strengths and resources you didn't even know you had, creating an invaluable inner strength. Also, I can almost guarantee that once you have processed everything, it will make you brave in the next part of your life - which is great (and really fun...).
You stop taking yourself (and life) so seriously – i.e. What doesn’t kill you – only makes you funnier.
Through the period of my life where I was staring failure in the face, I came to enjoy the company of people much older than myself. At 23, my social circle wasn't all that bursting with people who had messed up or had to change direction. When you're young and starting out - failure or even the prospect of it - really is the end of the world for some people. The older generation were much more chilled. If I told them what had happened, there was no horrified expression or excessive disdain, just comments like; ‘you’ll be alright, you'll figure it out and it will probably be good for you!.’ Hmm I wasn't so convinced. However, they were right - and what doesn’t kill you, actually only makes you funnier as well.
There was a regular delivery man at the office I temped at and we got chatting one day; ‘So what’s your story then Soph, bright thing like you, you at uni?’ I looked up from the reception computer I’d been slumping at. ‘Ohhhh I was, I was, I just got kicked out of Medical school actually’ may as well be honest. ‘Ooo you rebel you, what did you do?! – kill someone!?’ 'No. I just failed an exam at re-sit and that was it really.’ ‘Oh COME ON..thought I was gonna hear something good then! - that's well boring! you’re gonna have to think of a better story if anyone asks you in the future!!’ Then followed a huge belly laugh and a wink as he waddled out with a load of return Amazon boxes. It was a surprisingly great reaction and that day, Phil the delivery man, made me laugh at myself for the first time in months.
Humour can be a lifeline in times of struggle because it helps keep things in perspective. We're all just as capable as each other of being massive idiots sometimes so you have to learn to laugh and not take yourself - or life - so seriously. No matter how badly you've screwed up, if you have your health, and the people in your life are ok - its probably fixable. Remember that.
It will give you the balls to go for your real dreams.
One of the most common reasons we don’t pursue the thing we really want in life is the Fear of Failure. From experience I will tell you, if you are going to fail – it really is much better to make it at something you do love. Again, another slight paradox here. I don't like to have regrets but failing at something I didn't love, oddly, took I while to get past. The whole bloody fiasco left me exhausted, depressed and feeling like I’d wasted my time. I’d partly chosen Medicine over anything creative or my ‘dreams’ because I thought it was the ‘safe’ option. Haha. Well that was wrong. Turns out, you will rarely read about anyone who succeeds in any big way not encountering some failure along the way. We're all going to mess up at some point - that's how you succeed. So what it actually comes down to is this: its not about what you want to succeed at, its about what you're happy to fail at. If I'd failed at something I loved, I would have at least had the satisfaction of knowing I was brave enough to chase what I really wanted. Other careers may give you money and security - or seem like the 'right' path, but you can't put a price on knowing you were true to yourself. Fear of failure is just an illusion - its regret that's the scary one. So the rule I always follow now is; 'if I failed at this, would it feel like it was worth it?'
Even though I know it may be hard, don't worry if you've screwed up. It's the price you pay for gaining access to a strength and insight that makes you stronger than if you have only ever known success. It may take a while, and you will have to do some soul searching, but I promise you, there is definitely life changing magic to be found in screwing it all up.
Illustration credit: Marc Johns