I haven’t been thinking about failure as much as I used to. I used to wake up every morning, and feel paralysed by – among other things – a sense of failure. I felt I’d failed my children by not giving them a better life. I spent literally hours beating myself up for failing them. I felt they deserved more. Here’s a partial list of what I felt they deserved (and that I wasn’t giving them):
- A better life. I couldn’t quite define what that ‘better life’ might look like, but I was sure it wasn’t the one they were living.
- A country other than Ireland to live in. I had a horrible childhood in Ireland. I wanted better for my children. I felt awfully guilty for bringing them (under duress, but still) to Ireland instead of staying in Asia.
- A bigger house. We could do with at least one extra room – I dream of a library / study / creative area. And bigger rooms. I’d like them to have bigger bedrooms. Preferably in the city centre. (Hey, if you’re going to beat yourself up – you might as well use the heaviest stick you can find!)
- An extended family that wasn’t filled with abusive people, so they could have safe relationships.
Then, one day, when I was apologising to them for their lack, they gently disabused me of my notion of failure. You see, I was measuring what I thought they wanted against what I wanted for them, and believing I was right. I was wrong. Dismantling my list above, the girls made the following points:
- In much the same way as I was vague about what their ‘better’ life might look like, they couldn’t describe it, either. They are happy.
- They actually like living in Ireland. This seemed like such an absurd idea, that it never occurred to me as a possibility. Their experiences are not mine – they are not living a duplication of my life, just because they are living in the same geographical area. They have spent enough time in Asia to tell me that they don’t want to live there. They like visiting well enough, but they see Asia as ‘my’ place, rather than theirs (even though they are the ones with Indian blood!)
- ‘I love our house!’ they both exclaimed when I suggested they might not be delighted living here. More to the point, we are all very, very grateful to have a roof over our heads. Especially when there is a desperate housing crisis in Ireland at the moment, and one-parent families are disproportionately reflected in the homeless figures. I’ve been homeless, and it’s not fun. And, sure, there are houses we pass, and areas we pass through that we exclaim over and that allow us to imagine what it would be like to live there. It’s nice to have dreams. You don’t, however, have to realise every single one of them.
- As they have gotten older, I have told my children more and more about my own history, as it is appropriate for them to know it, and as they have been able to assume the information. They don’t want to have anything to do with the people who abuse me. They have plenty of wonderful people in their lives – a richly diverse gang of men, women, and children from all backgrounds who share their lives.
I was astonished. I hadn’t realised that the girls were, and are, quite content to live in Ireland. We travel enough that they have experienced other places and cultures and aren’t insular and parochial in their outlook. They have travelled enough to know that they love travelling, but – equally – they love returning to this house, in this village, in this country. Unlike their mother, my children have a sense of ‘home’,
I’ve also beaten myself up, on a regular basis, for appearing to fail in so many other ways. Most obvious, is my failure to perform as this patriarchal, capitalist society insists I must in order to be a ‘success’.
Recently, however, I have realised a few things. I can make a living and be aligned with my own values. Crucial to this realisation have been three people: Meg Kissack, Karen McAllister, and Prudence Moneypenny. I’ve added these women – and the people they connect me with – to my team.
I’ve also realised that the only person I can truly ‘fail’ is myself. I fail myself by acting in ways that are not aligned with my purpose, my beliefs, and my values. I fail myself by trying to fit into a box that was never meant to contain me. I fail myself by denying what I bring to the party – by not acknowledging the value I can add to this world and the experiences of those who live in it.
Failing, I have realised, is not not doing everything by myself. Failing is not seeking and / or accepting help. Recognising true help can be tricky – often, I have found, the people who say they have your best interests at heart, really only have their own best interests at heart.
Finally, I have realised that part of my purpose may well be to allow others to do what they do best. That means accepting help that is offered if it supports me, and is aligned with my own beliefs and values.
If you feel you’re failing, I’d respectfully suggest that you’re really not.