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How to Approach Success When You Feel Like a Failure

It can be hard to pick yourself up by your bootstraps and just “do the work.” Take it from me, a millennial. My entire generation has been battling against the title of “failure” since we entered the work force and started flipping burgers.


It can be exceptionally challenging for me to decide that I want to really give something a try again. They call it fear of failure. Or sometimes failure to launch. But after several years of having to relearn that life is not the way I was promised it was as a kid, here I am, aware that just because I haven’t had overwhelming successes in my life, doesn’t mean that it isn’t out there for me and for you.


It is easy to decide that the world is a terrible and unfair place (which arguably it certainly can be). But it is even harder to decide despite all of the obstacles and failures, that we should continue to create and outstretch our little arms into the sky towards success.


This is a concept that I have been grappling with the last few years in my life. I have to remind myself daily that I am still very young and learning to live. In fact, I even wrote it on a sticky note and stuck it to my door so I could see it every day and be reminded to take a deep breath and remember that it’s always one day at a time. One foot in front of the other. And that continuous hard work DOES payoff. Even if it’s not the ways we thought it might be in our minds.


I stumbled across a graph that shows how a lot of people live in this “valley of disappointment,” and they give up on something before it is time to. My generation is not only rooted in the idea that education is key but also speed is key. Learning things fast. Being the best in the shortest amount of time. Which actually leads to burn out. Take it from me—someone who went to a 21-month bachelor’s degree program. By golly, I graduated in 21 months. I was educated and fast, and you know what I have to show for it? Not a lot lol.



When I saw this graph for the first time, it really made me reconsider my relationship with success. This idea that all of my endless online (seemingly irrelevant and insignificant) ranting could be skills that are stored in me as opposed to just wasted talent and time. It really made me realize that I am in the valley of disappointment. I’m sure many many other people are. And maybe we will remain there forever.


But if you are like me, you will want to succeed!


Now let’s talk about success for a minute. Success is subjective. To you it may mean writing a best-selling novel. For me, it happens to be writing anything that I don’t hate. But I have always had a complicated relationship with success. If I’m being honest, when I was growing up, I had a much different idea of what my adult life would look like. I used to want a big house in the mountains where I would write these beautiful, moving novels. My work would be so well sought after that I could just live in the mountains and send my manuscripts out via the mailman, and that would be it. I’d be happy and successful and rich.


Now, all of this to say, that vision I had of the future as a child is not unachievable. It is just not nearly as easy as I thought it would be. And maybe you are rolling your eyes right now. I know that sometimes I want to do that too. If things were easy, everyone would have what they want. But life is not easy. That is a concept that child me had a hard time understanding, and as strange as it sounds to admit, I still feel very childlike on the inside. I’m hoping that a lot of people still do too. But now I am older, and I have come to realize that life is not easy, and the things we want from it—the successes we seek from it—can be very hard to achieve. So hard in fact that there is a question of whether it should be attempted or not.


This is where I am on the path to success. It can feel so hard to find the motivation to keep going on a project when one is almost certain that the outcome will be failure. What is the point of writing this story? Why do I even want to write books if no one will ever read them?


But this is where I have to step in and remind myself that while I may be in the valley of disappointment, I am not doomed to be there forever. Sure, maybe I will be here for a while—longer than anyone wants to be, but lately I have found extreme comfort in the knowledge that my previous shortcomings or failures are not truly failures, but they are learning experiences. Failures that had to happen to prepare me for the successes in my future. The results of our efforts are often delayed.


So, if you struggle with finding success in your life, this is your sign to keep going. To know that you are in the valley of disappointment, but just on the other side of it, is the result of your suffering (and I mean suffering endearingly here). I guess all of this is to tell you (and me) to keep going even when it seems pointless and even when it seems like your true goals and successes are out of reach. Success is a lot closer than we all think. All we have to do is keep doing our work.

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