Seeing Success, Feeling Failure

I have never been good at failing. As a child, if I was dissatisfied with my handwriting, I would spend hours and hours practicing, using up page after page of paper. When I began to struggle during my figure skating lessons, I simply quit. Any time I thought I might fail,
I avoided the task entirely.

Then I went to college. At 13, that took some doing: some of the administration didn’t want me there, and my biological father tried to convince the family courts that I didn’t Image result for successbelong there. I learned that I couldn’t run away from failure, I just had to try my best. If I felt I couldn’t get an A on an assignment even if I gave it my best, then I would procrastinate, and then cry because I knew if I had started sooner, it would be better. If I am so smart, why can’t I __________?

Starting college so young was a mixed blessing, because I believed that if I could do that, then I could do anything. I could get a job; I could live on my own; I could remember to put my laundry in the washing machine. When my room was a mess and my mom wanted for me to scoop the kitty litter, I cried because I had failed to have a clean room and I had failed to provide a clean toilet for the cats. If I am so smart, why can’t I __________?

Almost seven years later, I have just finished my Master’s degree, thesis included. I have a job teaching online in my field (environmental sciences), and I’m working towards a career in politics. People tell me I am successful and an inspiration.

Yet I still cannot remember to do laundry, and I beg my dad to clean up cat puke for me. I have a job that I love, teaching a series of classes that my students love and that fill up with returning students every semester, but surely I only received it because my mom is my boss’ boss? I’m good for the organization’s bottom line, but would anyone else hire me? If I am so smart, why can’t I __________?

I’m not a real adult, I still live with my parents. I don’t have a full-time job. I fear I will never live on my own, because I cannot maintain a liveable environment for myself. I feel I will never be pretty, because I will never be a size 6.

Imposter syndromeIt’s called Imposter Syndrome, and it makes me feel like a failure.

But what is failure, but an inability to meet an expectation? Is it still failure if the expectations were set by someone else, or by society? Is it still failure if the expectations are unrealistic? Who decides what is and is not realistic?

I’ve learned to set realistic expectations for myself. I don’t fail my own goals very often anymore; but when I do, I curl up in a ball and have a panic attack. Some days society’s expectations weigh more heavily on me than other days, though; and on those days I have failed, I will never be good enough, I cannot meet those expectations.

And so I move forward, I keep readjusting my self-expectations, and I keep crying on the days that I fail; and as I cry, I do my best to learn, so I don’t make the same mistakes next time. But ultimately, I will never be perfect, and so I will keep failing. So maybe the mistake I’m really making is thinking of failure as an ultimate end, rather than a learning opportunity.

About ecosciencegirl

Professionally, I am a graduate student at The Evergreen State College in their Master's of Environmental Studies program, with a Bachelor's of Science from Southern Oregon University in Environmental Studies and Biology. I am a science instructor for GHF Online (Gifted Homeschoolers Forum) and I volunteer at the WET Center, a science museum in Olympia, WA. Personally, I am a young adult who is fascinated with the environment, loves to read and write, and adores all animals (especially cats). In general, I do a lot of climate change activism, and I'm passionate about social and environmental justice. Someday I would like to be a teacher, field researcher, and/or policy maker. If possible, I would also like to save the world from humanity.
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3 Responses to Seeing Success, Feeling Failure

  1. If you’re not making mistakes then you aren’t trying hard enough. ❤ I wish you would congratulate yourself on your successes as much as you beat yourself up over perceived failures. ❤


  2. Trindel Maine says:

    You write well. Will share a few thoughts. Not only are ‘success’ and ‘failure’ subjective, but by any definition there tends to be a lot of space between them and the vast majority of life is spent somewhere in that intermediate area. Living at the parental home? You are saving money rather than dumping it into rent, your environmental footprint is smaller, and you are maintaining a close family relationship. My beloved husband just asked if I’d appreciate him filling out some long forms that needed my attention, I hate forms and very gladly took him up in the offer. We all have chores we hate or are incompetent at that we rely on others for. I’m currently at a stage of life where my mothers health and mind are failing her, and there is a definite role reversal as she becomes more dependent and child like. It definitely brings home the sense that we are very very dependent on others, independence is not really a good goal, balanced interdependence is both more realistic and healthier. Chores like laundry tend to be triggered by running out of whatever you are shortest on 🙂


  3. Dominic says:

    Failure is but a stepping stone to success. Not a destination.


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