It was Christmas Eve. I had just finished a mammoth crying session after receiving yet another rejection from a magazine.
“Deep breaths, chin up,” I told myself, as I entered the Christmas drinks at a friends house. But amidst the merriment and joy of the evening when asked by a friend how I was doing I said, “Not great, I’ve just been rejected from another magazine, so having a bit of an existential crisis.”
Some in the room overheard this but did they laugh? Or pity? Did it dampen the evening? No. My candor sparked an open discussion about all of our recent downfalls. None of which any of us knew about the other.
My friend messaged me the next day, “Em, thanks for telling me about that rejection. It looked like you were fine. I guess none of us realised we don’t all have it together.”
Pandora’s box had been opened. The butterfly effected. The tin of worms labeled ‘failure’ was prised open and cyclically in motion, but rolling up the hill instead of down. My failure hadn’t harmed, it had helped.
I got up, edited my previously failed piece and sent it out to two more publications.
We are told to fear failure, but just like Refinery 29 are tackling our taboo with talking about money, we need to knock down this notion that talking about our nonsuccesses makes us weak. Bianca Bass, writer and blogger at biancabass.com, agrees. She openly admitted in a post earlier this year that she created a business and it had failed. I was shocked. This smart, successful woman who so many look up to was just like us. I spoke to Bianca about what fuelled her to admit this and where it all started.
How did you think admitting your failure would make others feel?
“Before writing about my failed clothing business and the effect it had on me, I’d spent years curating and, subsequently, maintaining the illusion of a ‘perfect’ life and career. And honestly? I was exhausted. In a sea of perfect Instagram photos and perfect blogs and perfect Internet presences, I was starting to become bored. There are only so many flawless flat lay photos and soulless blog posts one can person can take! After receiving a few emails from my readers who were asking for advice, I realised the best thing I could do was to be 100% honest. So I did. I wrote about my reality, my failed business and how much it hurt my ego. Admittedly, part of me was scared that I’d be viewed as less ‘successful’, but, above all, I knew that if even one person could relate to my story it would be worth it.”
Do you think sharing our failures can help each other?
“Undoubtedly! Since publishing my story, I’ve been actively encouraging candid conversations not only on the internet but in my everyday life. The last thing I want anyone to think is that I have it ‘all figured out’. I don’t and neither does anyone else and, if you think about it, that’s actually so liberating! The fact is, the person who doesn’t make any mistakes is unlikely to make anything. Failing goes hand-in-hand with trying. If I’m not failing on a regular basis, I know I’m not trying hard enough. Through my blog, I’m on a mission to take the shame out of failure.”
Why do you think we’re afraid to talk about failure?
“So many reasons! The main one being our egos. But I think it’s also about our conditioning from the moment we enter education. As young children, so much of our identity is sadly based around the grades we get. In our most formative years, we have no choice but to embark on a series of exams and grades and ‘wins’ or ‘fails’. Then, when we enter the workplace, the terminology we use to describe people is so often centred around this idea of ‘oh, she’s super successful’ or ‘oh, he’s a total failure’. The reality is, it’s not that simple and we all need to celebrate each other and, most importantly, ourselves for trying and experimenting.”
Of course, we need to share our successes too, why shouldn’t we? We’re proud of them. But don’t forget to regale the turmoil that it took to get you there. Because it’s just as much something to be proud of as the success itself. If it was an easy ride, that’s amazing, what made it so smooth? We just need to know the truth, the journey before the triumph.
Life often feels like a perpetual struggle to elbow each other out of the way to get ahead. But we are not the competition. And if we are, we shouldn’t be. Everyone is in the same boat and it’s slowly sinking. No one is coming out alive.
Failures not only make us feel human, but they make you look human. I don’t want you to share your failures just to make me feel better. That’s selfish. But Bianca is so right, we need to see each other’s downfalls to break these barriers of anxiety. Perfection is a pressure no one can sustain. Not even high-rollers like Gigi Hadid feel like they are perfect, no matter how much we want to believe it.
None of us know what each other is going through. But by putting the lows into the limelight as well as the highs, maybe everyone in the audience can see the truth and know they’re not alone.