When You Feel Like You’ve Failed

Every year, I set a theme. In 2022, it was “Joy.” My goal was to enjoy every day, to find joy at work, and to prioritize the experiences and people that make me happy.

About ten months into the year, I somehow felt that I had failed. The pressure of the recession was getting to me. Money wasn’t great. Nothing I tried at work seemed to work. I wasn’t as present in my relationships as I would have liked to be.

Eventually, I resigned. “Okay, Joy has come and gone. Now it’s time to Focus.” I had some responsibilities to take care of, and it was time to face them head on. Wake up early. Work hard. Do whatever was necessary to ensure a good future. That sort of thing.

One day, while I was sad that I hadn’t lived up to my theme, I thought back through the year, and I realized: I hadn’t failed at all.

I went on four trips with my girlfriend to some far-away and close-by places. I showed my sister around London and met with two longtime friends in France. I did my first escape room. I wrote my second book. But those are just the big, obvious things you can see. The ones where it’s obvious that they came with some (or a lot) of happiness.

More than that, though, I did a lot of small things, and that’s where a theme really becomes a theme. I made time to read almost every day and, as a result, read over 30 books. I worked every day on my book, a project that wasn’t going to make a ton of money, but that was important to me — and I took as much time as I needed to complete it properly. I deleted most of my social media, and while I still waste a lot of time on various apps and the internet, I do feel a lot more calm and less frantic. Plus, finally, for most of the year, I didn’t let my money woes get to me — and that too is an accomplishment.

It’s easy to throw the whole cake into the trash when the frosting looks a bit off. To be your own worst critic and dismiss even the obvious feats you’ve clearly accomplished. It takes work to look for the silver linings in the remains of a sand castle. To find the pieces of gold you hid along the way, and remember why you put them there. But that’s work worth doing. It gives us a more accurate picture of reality and, more importantly, the fuel to keep going — to pick up the shovel and build another castle.

Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater, and don’t forget your successes just because you can no longer feel them.