At various points in the last 10 years, I have been a complete and utter f**kup. I have lost friendships that meant the world, and fractured my relationships, including a 6 year relationship with my then-fiancé. I have lost every dollar I had, and with it my home. I have built up a pretty damn solid drinking problem that derailed my life and my health. I have been fired from multiple jobs, lost a record deal, deleted a blog that had over 120,000 subscribers and overall, I have simply been an obnoxious and toxic human.
But — and this is the key part — I have survived each of those things.
I have survived, thrived, and found a way to live with myself, as myself and for myself. Along the way, and despite those disasters, for which I was entirely culpable, I have achieved a few things of which I am immensely proud.
I beat my drinking problem.
I examined my own toxic behaviours and worked hard to change them.
I came out, first as queer and then as a transgender woman, and I transitioned.
I rebuilt my career.
I became a writer.
And I made it here.
I wanted to write down some advice that I’ve gained from the road behind me. I don’t want this to sound like a f**king sermon, because honestly I don’t know it all, I don’t have divine inspiration, and I can’t preach for s**t. But from one f**kup to another, I want to give you at least a couple lines of useful information and guidance.
Remember this. Everyone is a failure sooner or later, to a different degree. Me, you, everybody. There are no exceptions. If you think that being a failure means you don’t have worth and value, you couldn’t be more wrong. Being a failure is being alive. It’s taking risks and fighting for something.
1. Don’t Be Too Stubborn.
I like stubborn people. I like people who are bullish on the things that they believe in, and don’t give up easy. Those are the people who build incredible things and shake age-old foundations. Those are the people who will help us to address climate change, who will change our hearts and minds when they need to be changed, and who will go through their own personal hells and still have the guts to look ahead. But stubbornness only takes you so far. Sometimes, when things have gone to s**t and there’s no changing it, and there’s no making it better, and you’ve done damage that can’t be fixed — you have to walk away.
It’s tough to see where you should be stubborn and where you should admit defeat though. Because sometimes admitting defeat is the right thing to do. If you can be honest with yourself and make that call, that it’s time to quit and it’s the right time to quit — you’ll be better equipped to take on your next project.
Who knows. Your next attempt could change the world. The next hand you hold could be the love of your life.
2. Walk Away.
When you’ve recognised that it’s time, there is no shame in walking away from something. Sometimes you can’t do much of anything else. When the chips are down, and you’re out of options, when there’s no more money left and you can’t keep funding your idea, when the love is there but it can’t be re-ignited, when you have to begin again, this is when you need to be able to move on with your pride intact.
Walking away means turning a page. It means taking something into which you’ve poured everything you had, something you’ve worked on till your fingers bled, and putting it firmly in the past. That’s heartbreaking.
But if you don’t walk away, if you can’t move on instead of remaining deeply emotionally invested in something that has failed, you’ll never succeed anywhere else.
3. Write About It.
You need to get it out of your system. Your start-up failed, your art failed, your career failed, your relationship failed. Whatever happened, expressing it is going to help you work through it. I’m a big fan of working through my mind slowly and clearly when I’m wrong. It makes me more accountable and it pinpoints mistakes and issues. I’m not talking about starting a blog, although it could take that form. I’m talking about journaling. Putting down your experiences somewhere that you can go back to, read again and again and learn from.
When you’ve failed truly spectacularly, my best advice is to put it down on a page. You don’t have to show that page to anyone, but you have to succinctly explain, in clear, simple language exactly what went wrong and why.
You’ll be surprised how often your instinct to lie to yourself will kick in when you start journaling about your f**kups. But you’ll also be surprised how honest you can be.
4. Make Amends.
When you’ve failed, the chances are, you’ve taken a few people down with you. And that sucks for them. Your employees, your collaborators, the people you loved who loved you in return; they relied on you because they believed in you, so completely. The failure has affected you, sure — but it’s probably been even more shitty for them.
You have to make amends with the people who were affected. You have to say sorry, when it doesn’t work out the way you promised it would. You have to ask for their forgiveness, and you have to ask for their feedback. You’ve screwed up, and they’ll be angry and upset, but if you run from that confrontation, they’ll never respect you.
You can’t just say you’ve learned from your mistakes. You have to do the absolute best you can to make amends for them. Words and lessons are empty without actions.
5. Rely On Your Support Network.
Go home and sleep on your Mum’s couch for a few days. Call the friends you probably haven’t seen because you’ve been working your ass off trying to avoid disaster, or drinking yourself into a hole, or just being an absolute tool. Reconnect with your mentors. You need to use your support network to patch up your wounds now. They’ll be happy to do it.
If you don’t have a support network? That sucks. But you should find one. Find like minded people who you can discuss what happened with. Rediscover your connections with people who got left behind.
Basically, do whatever it takes to get people in your corner who can help you get back in the ring.
6. On The Subject Of Which…Get Back In The Ring.
The longer you wait before you try, try again — the harder it will be. If you ever want to be better and be happy, and reach a point where you can look back on your worst fucking failures and smile, you have to get back in the ring and keep swinging. Your next mountain doesn’t have to be huge, after a failure. It can be tiny, it can be simple. Your tech start-up failed? You could found an email newsletter, something incredibly easy to get off the ground. Your relationship is over? Just work on trusting and opening yourself up again.
If you can win a small victory there, it’s going to go a long way towards making up for the bigger failure.