Interpreting Failure through a Feminist Lens: Growing from Failing

As I begin to write this post, I think of the word “failure” and feel a familiar sense of discomfort. A kind of squirmy sense of vulnerability takes over as I feel my confidence waver. I think of past failures (hello, algebra 2 exam from my sophomore year of high school). I cringe. I consider deleting the title and instead typing “How to Navigate the 2016 Elections through the Lens of an Intersectional Feminist” or, better yet, “Misogyny, What’s up with that am I Riiiiight??”

Instead, I am going to be brave, be vulnerable, and be open.

I am afraid of failure. I hate the idea of not succeeding, not living up to my own vision and standard of success. Instead of being honest with my thoughts or feelings, I am notoriously hard on myself in order to preserve an image that I have crafted. Who am I if I am not the woman who can juggle work, school, relationships, projects, and involvement all with the demeanor of ease?

Though I am definitely a work in progress (see: rant above), I hope to share how I am trying/ working/ doing my very best to embrace failure, to love myself, and to use my experiences to grow and evolve.

  1. Be critical of your definition of success.

Guess who created a (*cough, cough*capitalistic, patriarchal, heteronormative, hierarchical) definition of success that is meant to suppress marginalized groups? YOU GUESSED IT: the patriarchy, those with the inherent privilege to meet the seemingly uniform definition of success that is defined by money, “happiness,” positions, and the ability to successfully navigate society on these terms.

Remember: you are so much more than what you can write on your resume, you are the sum of your actions, thoughts, words, and being! I encourage you to think critically about how you define success and, in this way, how you interpret failure. My personal definition of success centers on fulfillment and value as opposed to achievements and check marks.

  1. Take the time to deliberately and mindfully craft a supportive community (Hi, WILL! How’s it going?)

Surround yourself with the love and joy that you deserve. Be mindful of the energies and people with which you surround yourself, take the time to deliberately create support networks. Through these networks, you are able to overcome failure collaboratively.

For me, the failures that I have faced alone or with a community that was not truly supportive or caring impacted me the most negatively. As you learn and grow with this sense of community, you will be able to cope and evolve from failure with a backbone of support.

  1. Be as kind to yourself as you are with others: employ a reflective sense of empathy and self-care.

Understand and know that you are human, you are allowed to make mistakes, and that the work that you do is important. We can all be guilty of being too hard on ourselves, only accepting our own perception of perfection as a “success.” I cannot count the number of times that I have wished friends congratulations on their successful projects or ventures only to get a response of “it could have gone better,” or “I wish I had done more.”

Though it is healthy to be reflective, know that the failure you feel may not be felt or seen by others. Take time to make an inventory of your work, prioritize what you did well, and be determined to grow from what you did not-so-well. Be willing to take breaks and take care of what you need in this process. Be kind to yourself; know that your work has value.

  1. Prioritize perspective, do not let failure define your worth.

When I feel as though I have failed, I take the time to consider how this “failure” will impact me in a week, in a month, in a year, when I graduate college. By taking the time to visualize how you and others will be impacted by in the long term, growing from failing becomes much less scary. Through this perspective, it is easier to cope with the fact that though failure might seem crippling at the time, it may not be something you value in the long run.

Do not allow failure to define you. Do not allow failure to define your worth.

  1. Be brave, honest and open about your experiences, these vulnerabilities will help you to grow. Don’t be afraid to sit with and validate your feelings.

For me, this is the most difficult aspect of learning to accept failure as a tool for growth. By being genuine and reflective about your experiences, you are creating the space to grow and evolve from failure. It has always been easier for me to run and hide from my perceived failings, not facing my own insecurities and vulnerabilities.

In order to best create the time and space for honest and meaningful reflection I ask myself the following questions:

“How can I learn from this?”

“In what ways did this help me grow?”

“How can I lean on my support system for guidance through this challenge?”

“What tangible changes will I make next time?”

  1. Celebrate your victories, take time to love yourself through positive self talk.

Be willing to take time out of your day to recognize and reward yourself for what you did WELL. Instead of dwelling and hyper-analyzing failure, validate why you succeeded. I personally enjoy breaking out a well-deserved victory dance whenever I feel that I did something meaningful, or know that I am a SUPERSTAAAAAR!

You got a B on a difficult exam because you took the time to study and learn the material? (WOOOOHOOOO, self-high-five, you genius-flower-angel). Wowee you meet a nice new dog that you became friends with and can now think of fondly as you continue your day? (WHAT A VICTORY, you dog-whisperer-goddess). You held a club meeting on campus that used your talents to inspire those around you? (YEEEEEES! Do a little happy dance, you shiny-water nymph- puppy-humanitarian).

Though I still definitely (DEFINITELY) fear failure, I can feel the little dents and cracks in this fear as I continue to grow and evolve from failure. By embracing the concept of failure as a tool to grow, I continue to accept that I am powerful and that I am worthy. In this way, I have been able to embrace love for myself and from others, be less critical for myself, and learn to embrace an honest perception of self.

Rachel Motley is 3rd year Political Science, History and International Affairs Major. She is a 1st year WILLer and learning to grow and evolve while embracing failure and loving herself.

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