How Abraham Lincoln, Beethoven and Darius Danesh might be curing my fear of failure

I kept panicking that I'm a total failure in life, until I discovered that all the cool kids have royally fucked up at least once. Yes, even Darius...
Rebecca Holman
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I kept panicking that I'm a total failure in life, until I discovered that all the cool kids have royally fucked up at least once. Yes, even Darius...

How do you rate personal success? It’s recently dawned on me that my personal measure for success is ‘have I done that better than anyone else in the world?’

Inevitably, the answer is no, because it’s not like I’m a gold-winning Olympian anything. Even my own mother would admit that, statistically speaking, the chances of me being better at something than all of the other 7 billion people on the planet are...slim. 

I know I’m setting the bar too high for myself, but because I’m a stroppy little madam by nature, there’s no room for middle ground. If I’m not better than everyone else at something, then I don’t want to do it at all. Essentially my weak ankles are only matched by my weak moral fiber.

This is why I never take part in team sports – lots of practice might just about make me mediocre at, say, softball, but I lack the coordination, competitiveness, and confidence to ever make a real success of it, so I’d rather not do it at all.

It’s why I’ve never even attempted to write the novel I always say I’m going to write one day, even though there’s a possibility that I might not be completely horrible at it.

It’s also why I’ve never been skiing, even though I know I’d totally bum après ski. Any fun I'd have would be overshadowed by just how bad I was at the skiing bit.


Here I am thinking about doing something I might fail at. I'll probably just elect to sit in this field instead. 

Basically I’m giving up on loads of things before I’ve even started, just because I’m not instantly amazing at them straight away. Which makes me feel like I’m even more of a failure.

It can also lead to total paralysis – sometimes I become so worried about doing the wrong thing that I become incapable of doing anything at all.

My total life can be summed up in a stressful car journey in Germany with my parents and gran a few weeks ago. We were characteristically lost, and my mother kept sending us in the wrong direction.

I was 100 per cent sure we were going wrong, and kept telling her as such, but didn’t want to suggest another route in case that was wrong as well. In the end, my dad, sick of trying to negotiate an autobahn with two bickering women in the back shouted at me ‘just suggest something, it doesn’t matter if you get it wrong, but you just need to make a decision.’

Wise words from my pa. Unfortunately I didn’t take his advice and just kept vacillating uselessly until my Gran got sick of the lot of us and called my cousin for directions.

And because I keep pointlessly measuring myself up against other people, it also makes me, quite frankly, a bit of a bitch. It's really hard to genuinely take pleasure in other people’s hard-earned and deserving success when I’m constantly using them as a ruler against which to measure my own failures.

It also means, conversely, that other people’s failures have become a measure of my success – which is both perverse and completely inaccurate.

So in summary: fearing failure makes me a risk averse, mean-spirited bitch, who’s incapable of making decisions, as well as a terrible navigator on foreign roads.

But no more, people! From now on I’m going to embrace the failure – and it’s all because I saw a sign outside a café the other day listing all of the failures in Abraham Lincoln’s life.

They read as follows:

1832 Lost job

1833 Failed in business

1835 Sweetheart died

1836 Had nervous breakdown

1838 Defeated for Speaker

1843 Defeated for nomination for Congress 1

1848 Lost renomination

1849 Rejected for land officer

1856 Defeated for nomination for Vice President

1858 Again defeated for U.S. Senate

1860 Elected President

That’s not quite 28 solid years of failure (he also had plenty of successes, which I've kept out for the purposes of erm..narrative), but it's still a pretty impressive list from a man who then became arguably one of the greatest presidents of the America EVAH. 

And it led me to Google think about other famous failures and how they’ve bounced back. Beethoven was told by his music teacher he was a hopeless composer. Steven Spielberg was rejected from film school three times because of his rubbish grades.

Remember when Darius Danesh was turned down for Popstars because of this:

and then cut all of his hair off and got quite hot and then came third in Pop Idol the following year? 

Or what about Camilla Parker Bowles? Everyone hated her for ages, and now she’s a bona fide National Treasure™*

So, people fail all the time, even objectively successful people fail. In fact, they probably fail more than most because they take more risks, put themselves in the firing line more often.


Thinking about all my dreamy failure boys 

So from now on, I solemnly swear that I will take my failings and view them as valuable lessons, from which I will emerge older and wiser.

I will take genuine pleasure in other people’s success, sagely acknowledging that they must have experienced plenty of failure of their own to get to where they are now. Every time I fail at something, I’ll think about what I’ve learnt and turn it into a positive experience.

You’re probably never going to get me skiing though. Sorry.

*Daily Mail approved.

So I can't be the only person staggering about under the heavy cloud of inferiority, can I? Anyone? Tumbleweed? 

Also, cheer me up, tell me about all the times you royally screwed the pooch and came out of it ok...