Beautiful Landscape

Are you a perfectionist? Then read this!

Mind the gap – what sits between failure and success and why it’s worth noticing it!

Are you a recovering perfectionist? Do you need a good injection of the benefits of failure in your life, so that it will keep you on an even keel?

Here is a healthy dose of youtube videos all about failure which might help as a good start.


And here additionally is a healthy ramble from me about it all….


I’ve watched these videos, and they are a great start but the thing is, there’s something missing, which you may see if you look again after reading this! The story that’s sold to us about failure is that it is simply a precursor to success e.g. Eddison failed ten thousand times before he succeeded in inventing the lightbulb. The point of the message is that success is the most important thing, at the end of it all - and there’s not much more too it. Therefore, “keep your eye on the goal” is what is drummed into us.


This is all well and good, I mean - how would we progress as human beings or as a society if we didn’t follow the formula of fail and succeed?


But, there’s a whole missing bit that is the most important bit, that hides in plain sight! The question that I like to ponder is - what kind of relationship do we have with that failure? What happens when the failure takes place? This is where I think the most important bit is – the bit that sits in between the two words – the process that happens as a result of the failure.

What do you do when you fail? Do you feel a sense of shame, disgust, discomfort and then perhaps distance yourself from the failure and jump immediately to ‘how do I succeed?’ Or, do you allow yourself to acknowledge the pain and discomfort – to ‘sit in it’ and let it be heard? Do you notice those bruises that have come from falling over? Do you cry or allow yourself to feel the sadness? Or do you blame others for what hasn’t worked out?


You might ask, what’s the point of ‘sitting in’ the discomfort? Isn’t that wallowing? Surely I should just move on and get on with succeeding?


The best answer I can give is that there is great worth in accepting ourselves as we are, with all our failures. There is endless richness in this act. It is the most compassionate thing we can possibly do. Compassion and self-forgiveness, being one’s own parent in the fray of life can lead to a feeling of relief, which means that we don’t have to keep hold of the narrow focus of ‘I have to succeed’ or ‘I have to be good’. Ultimately, failure and success, good and bad are black and white concepts. Life is much more about the grey bit in the gap – that’s where real living and where the richness is.


Also within that gap sits clues around the stories we tell ourselves. Stories, that also, if we listen to them, provide us with a great deal of insight about ourselves and how we can affect change in our lives. For instance, think about the story you might tell yourself if the following were to happen:


Your friend forgets to call you when she said she would.

Your boss at works doesn’t give you the time to share your new idea in a work meeting.


There could be any number of stories that you tell yourself as a result of these scenarios. Bringing these stories we tell ourselves into our conscious awareness is a crucial part of processing the situation, and can be especially helpful around failure.


Consider writing a journal, or just write on a word document on your computer. You can delete it afterwards if you like. The most important thing is to start bringing those ‘stories we tell ourselves’ into the foreground, to observe them so we can see what lives in the gap between failure and success. We make up stories that reinforce misguided beliefs about ourselves and the world, because, in the short-term it is easier and less painful.


Whilst it’s understandable to see failure simply as an opportunity to learn, there is a lot more opportunity existing in the gap, by taking the opportunity to sit with and acknowledge insecurities and shame. Paradoxically, insecurity and shame deeply appreciate being acknowledged, and counselling can be a safe place in which to do that.


Recommended reading & videos for recovering perfectionists:


The Gifts of Imperfection, Brenee Brown

Rising Strong, Brenee Brown

The Invitation, (prose poem by Oriah Mountain Dreamer)

Ted talk on The power of vulnerability