I woke up to the chilly breeze of the dawn. Winters have finally arrived. Moreover, I was excited for my conversation with the author of the month, the one who inspired people, made them speak of their failures, and in turn, learn from it, Elizabeth Day.
We all face failures. The point is what we learn from them. Elizabeth started a podcast ‘How to Fail’ in July 2018 out of passion. The idea she brought in was to talk about her own failures and what she learned from them. She has taught the people who have failed that they are not alone. The biggest of the personalities we see out there also failed at some point in their lives.
In Failosophy, Elizabeth Day brings together all the lessons she has learned, from conversations with the guests on her award-winning How to Fail podcast, from stories shared with her by readers and listeners, and from her own life, and distills them into seven principles of failure. Practical, reassuring, and inspirational, these principles offer a guide through life’s rough patches.
Getting ready for the call with the author herself, I poured myself the only thing I need in the morning – Black Coffee, I prefer it strong! The clock struck 12:30 as I completed my daily morning chores after waking up from my deep slumber. The Zoom call was about to begin.
I was getting Goosebumps as the topic of our discussion was a failure. An avalanche of thoughts flooded my mind, reminding me of the smallest of the things when I failed! I struggled to switch my mind from the thought of failure to the small things I have succeeded in. As I was waiting for the Zoom session to begin, a blink on the screen and a beautiful face popped up!
We all fail, right?
Bringing in the question of failure about which I was feeling a bit uncomfortable earlier, but not now, thanks to Day. Inspired by her great podcast, ‘How to fail’, I was really going to learn something from her. “I did it as a personal passion project but was astounded when it became very popular in the UK. Ironically, it has turned out to be one of the most successful things I’ve ever done and it made me realize that people really wanted to talk about failure,” she said.
Talking about her book Failosophy, she continued, “After two years of the podcast, I realized not only that certain themes kept coming up again and again but that I also had this incredible resource of collective wisdom from my guests that had changed the way I lived my life for the better. So Failosophy came about as a distillation of all that – it explains seven key ‘failure principles’ and offers pragmatic, aspirational, and helpful advice from a range of people, including myself, on what do when you encounter a crisis or a bump in the road.”
There are insights and quotes from former guests to her podcast including Malcolm Gladwell, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Alain de Botton, Meera Syal, and many more.
The Human Connection
The thoughts were getting in sync now. I felt my nerves getting relaxed. The perfection we see in the Instagram posts of the people and how good they seem to be in the pic, that’s not the thing that connects us as humans, but failure surely does connect us as humans.
“There’s a yearning to talk about our imperfections and how they make us human. Our failures are what connect us: they reveal our truest selves. I also think that it’s refreshing to hear celebrities talk about things going wrong – it offers a more genuine interview experience,” I agreed to her with a nod.
Going Leaps and Bounds
Everybody has one main failure in life that changes how they actually, see their life. For Elizabeth, it was her failed marriage. The failure of marriage and not being able to be a mother taught her about the fact that there are certain things beyond one’s control.
One has to go on and I agreed to her words, “I never thought I would be divorced at 36, in much the same way as I never imagined I would not be a mother. It made me realize that for all those years I’d spent working hard, trying to please others, and attempting to be ‘perfect’ (utterly impossible, I now realize) there were things in life that lay beyond my control. These failures made me re-evaluate the kind of life I wanted to live and withstanding them made me realize I was stronger than I thought.
I recall how I failed at one point in my life and slowly regained the confidence to come out of it. One has to change the way they look at things including the failures. This really helps in understanding what you could or could not do.
Dealing with the Fear of Failure
I have seen many of my friends in schools, colleges, giving exams, struggle with the failure aspect. This has been a trend, especially for youngsters. I wanted to know Elizabeth’s take on this subject. To my surprise, she was also approached by the youth in their 20’s to help them cope up with the fear of failure.
I loved the way responded – “There’s a fear, as you say, that if they get something wrong, they will be publicly judged. And because we live in an age of social media, it’s true to say that there is much less private space to make mistakes.”
I agree on the part of having much less or almost negligible private space because of social media, I believe people need to be aware of what they are being exposed too and what part of their lives they want to expose to the public.
Adding to that, Elizabeth said, “What I say to them is twofold: one thing to remember is that if you never take a risk, you never learn. The most interesting people are always the ones who have failed in order to understand what it takes to succeed. Without failure, there can be no evolution.”
And what’s the second thing? I was curious to know. She resumed with a smile, “The second thing to say is that when we feel fearful, that can often be a signifier of growth. We’re frequently scared of the unknown, but sometimes the unknown is an opportunity we’re denying ourselves. Many of us struggle with self-worth, but feeling like an imposter in your own life is never going to fulfill you – if you don’t take the risk and reap the possible rewards, there will be others who take your place. We need to step into our own power.”
We all have someone who inspires us. When asked about the person who inspired her the most, she named her best friend and psychotherapist, Emma. She smiled and said, “She has always been there to reassure me that tough times will pass, and she is able to set my mind at rest and protect me from my own insecurities. I love her so much.”
Being Regret Free
One thing I always remind myself is to be free of any regrets. But as it’s said, easier said than done, some experiences and failures make you regret that decision of yours!
I turned to Elizabeth to understand how she tackles this. I was quite astounded by her answer, “I don’t have regrets because I know that I’ve learned from every single thing that I wished didn’t happen at the time – and every single thing has brought me to where I am now, for which I’m extremely grateful.
But I had a beloved ex-boyfriend who was killed when he went to cover the war in Iraq as a journalist. He was 24 and I wish I had had the chance to say goodbye.
Otherwise…winning the Booker Prize?!”
She adds further to it, “Resilience and, by association, optimism. I believe in the fundamental beauty and goodness of life, no matter what it throws our way.
Cherishing the Old Memories
I wanted to be a journalist, to have a taste of the world of media, but sometimes life has something different for you. I wanted to know about the journalism journey of Elizabeth, the stepping stone.
I was super glad to register her reaction! She responded gleefully, ” Ha! This will date me… My first column was published when I was 12 and it was about the pop stars Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan and how I felt that there were too many Australian soap stars on the charts.
Years later, I got to interview Kylie Minogue for The Sunday Times and she was absolutely lovely.”
A Ray of Hope
Failure is something that can shatter many people. Failosophy can definitely help you in understanding that it’s not a failure if you fail. It’s just that you are human. I agree with it as reading through the book, I could also relate the same with my life as well.
I was wondering about how the Failosophy book was helping the people out there. Elizabeth was happy to share her answer, “I’ve been getting lovely feedback. I’m hugely honored to find that readers are turning to Failosophy to get them through the toughest times in their lives. I had one message from a mother whose son was undergoing chemotherapy who said that Failosophy was helping her a lot. I truly could not ask for more than that.”
I was literally speechless by her answers and glad that i got a chance to talk to her!
I realized that an hour had almost past and I didn’t want to take more of her time from her busy schedule. I thanked her for her time and we both bade adieu.
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