The fringe benefits of failure


You’d be forgiven for thinking this post is about failure – it is, after all suggested in its name – about the many and frequent failures I have faced – most of which would previously have been incomprehensible – since the day of my birthday last year.

It’s a bittersweet thing to remember my thirty-first birthday; where I was, my hopes, my dreams; the plans I had for the future. I had my mum and step-dad with me in Sydney; we started our morning with a beach-front breakfast and a coastal walk, the early morning sunlight dappled on the water, forming an iridescent glow, Days before their arrival I had quit my job, with the intention of registering my relationship with my boyfriend (which I did a matter of weeks after my birthday), applying for our partner visa and living happily ever after in the land down under.

Alas, said plans were not to be, and my thirty-first year on the planet was a tough one; one in which I learnt about the perils of privilege and what it means to be truly poor, I cried more than I think I ever have before; I suffered loneliness, and homesickness and fear, and I did my best to find peace amongst the chaos and stillness in the uncertainty that my life had become.

Perhaps my biggest battle was overcoming the fear of failure I felt throughout the year. While from the outside my life looked like an endless stream of exotic destinations, balmy beaches; and the footloose and fancy-free freedom that unemployment affords one, the reality was very different. I had failed on an epic scale – I had no career, no income, my debts were mounting, and so too was the anxiety that goes hand in hand with financial instability. I was living out of a suitcase, desperately trying to launch as a freelancer; an impossible feat when any confidence you have in your ability as a writer is nigh on non-existent. I struggled to pay my rent, and became resentful of everyone around me that had a job and was able to buy mundanities like loo paper and groceries without a second thought.

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My struggles – a year on – are still the very same, and while the end is in sight and I’ll soon be able to work again, a new chapter brings with it a fresh set of fears. I’m about as far away as I had hoped and thought I’d be at 32, in terms of my pre-conceived notions of success.

And yet. I was with two of my favourite people last night – my old housemate Brit and her husband Ben. As the sky turned dark outside and the hours crept towards midnight and the cusp of my thirty-second birthday, I started listing off my many failures – the fact that a year after registering my relationship, I am not yet able to work in Australia, the debt I have racked up; the many months and years it will take me to repay, the uncertainty over what my future career looks like, and whether and when I will find a job I love. Ever the voice of reason, Ben tuned to me and said ‘and yet, you’re a dear friend and a treasured daughter and sister.’

Which got me thinking about the things at which I’ve succeeded, and what really matters above all else. I studied black women writers as part of my degree in English Literature, and while the writing of my dissertation feels like many moons ago, a quote that has stayed with me in the years since is one from Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

I may now never match the career success of my peers; my year of unemployment may have an ongoing effect on my employability – or lack thereof – I may never reach the dizzying heights of a six figure salary or an impressive savings account or acquire the riches and fortunes I once placed so much value on. What I know however; and what I hope is thus: that despite the shit storm that was my thirty-first year, despite the little I had to offer those around me, I have always loved and been loved. My year of instability taught me about gratitude, and about the importance of friends and family and love over absolutely everything; indeed had I not gone through such a turbulent time, had I not become so reliant and dependent on those around me, I might never have realised their true value and thus been so vocal about how much they all mean to me.

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My material successes may be few and far between, but I’m confident in my success of cherishing my friends, of nurturing my relationships and of continuing to love and to hope for the future.

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