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The failure chronicles

Call me buzz kill

by Laura Zigman  |  10346 views  |  18 comments  |       Rate this now! 

All good conversations start with a confession, so here’s mine: I feel like a failure.

You’ll notice that I said I feel like a failure rather than I am a failure because that is the nugget of what I’m going to be writing about here in The Failure Chronicles for Work It, Mom! How feeling like a failure is different from actually being a failure, and how anyone — no matter how un-failure-like they may appear to be to most people — can be consumed with the notion that they are a complete and utter loser.  Which is just one of the many good things about failure: anyone can succeed at it.

No one likes to talk about failure, it seems, except me. This is very strange since in almost every other discipline or field of study outside of psychology and human development focusing on failure is the one true route to success: improvements in engineering and computer design and product development are almost always the consequence of structural or system failures; medical and drug testing studies what doesn’t work in order to find out what does work; and the Harvard Business School case-study method of understanding what makes successful companies by studying unsuccessful companies has become the model for most business school curriculum. But for some reason, focusing on missed opportunities or mistakes made in our personal and professional lives is still taboo. Talking about personal failure in normal conversation brands someone instantly as a depressive, a downer, a buzz-killer, a drag: a neurotic anti-optimist who should spend less time focusing on failure and more time trying to be successful.

As strange as it may sound, what I hope to do here on Work It, Mom!  is the exact opposite:  I’m going to be spending more time focusing on failure and less time trying to be successful.  Because it’s my true belief (not to mention obsession) that focusing on failure -- the relativity of it (and the relativity of success), the upside of it (yes, there is an upside to failure), and the humor of it (yes, failure can be funny:  trust me, you’ll see) – ultimately leads to the unlikeliest of places:  success.

Failing seems to be what most working moms feel they’re doing most of the time, even if most of the time they’re doing an amazing job doing exactly the opposite:  not failing. But with all the responsibilities of motherhood [the naps the snacks the clothes the cooking the cleaning the calendar the school the soccer the gymnastics the trains the dinosaurs the Goldfish the Bratz the Webkinz] – and all the responsibilities of employment [the work the deadlines the panic the pressure the angst the bills the bills the bills did I mention the bills?] – not to mention all the responsibilities of coupledom [the marriage the marriage the marriage] it’s no wonder that most of us, most of the time, feel like we’ve failed at something every single day.

About the Author

Laura is the author of 4 novels (Animal Husbandry, Dating Big Bird, Her, and Piece of Work) but constantly feels like a failure. (

Read more by Laura Zigman

18 comments so far...

  • I'm so glad you're here to talk about this. I definitely have moments of feeling like a failure. Then my husband figuratively slaps me upside the head and points out all of the things I do. DUH. It helps to have that reminder. I think failure shouldn't be so negative. I might not always get it right or might not get it finished (laundry anyone?) but that doesn't mean I've failed. Oh, wait, I have failed a couple of pregnancy tests before, depending on how you look at them: positive when I wasn't sure I wanted it positive and negative when I definitely wanted it positive!! I'm really looking forward to the discussions your column is going to generate.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Mandy Nelson - Dandysound on 8th November 2007

  • Hi,

    I think one of the reasons the word “FAILURE” sounds so terrible is because it starts with the same letter that indicates the worst grade in school!

    Why don’t we just change the definition of failure? Failure: the process of finding out.

    This would mean the “F” stands for “Finding” rather than for “Flunking.”

    One of my favorite quotes of all time was by inventor of the light bulb, Thomas Edison: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

    In this light, failure is a great, essential aspect of life, but I’m still open to finding things out the first time around :-)

    Talk to you soon,
    Coach Annemarie

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by on 8th November 2007

  • I think Moms are so hard on themselves because there is such an idea of "MOM." Add to that the manufactured "war" between working moms and stay at home moms and it seems like no matter what choice we make we have "failed" somehow. So, I will definitely be interested to read what you have to say!

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Leandra Nessel on 8th November 2007

  • Wow. I have never felt like that but based on previous comments here I am alone in saying that. I feel incredibly blessed, successful and pleased with where I have been and where I am today. I don't feel like I have failed anywhere in life. I think women need to stop being their own worst enemy/critic. I'll be interested to read more of your writings.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by KathyHowe on 8th November 2007

  • you are so right, i cant wait to read more about failure. I have always tried to see my 'failures' as areas of future improvment LOL! sometimes it works, sometimes it's just better with icecream :) thanks for writing and opening this dialogue!

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Kate on 7th November 2007

  • Hi Laura
    I can relate to your article and appreciate your honesty. I'm a working mom with three kids and my oldest son (11) has a learning disability. He's a great kid and pretty well adjusted himbut has a tough time in school. In a nutshell, my thought yesterday was that as hard as I try to cope with his disability, I feel like it's not good enough and that I'm failing him. He's been tested up, down and sideways. He's in Special Ed and has a private tutor. Last year we spent over 5k to have him participate in a brain balance program. All of this and this thing is still kicking our butt. Thanks for bringing this up so I can voice my opinion on failure. Honesty is the first step in healing.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Megan on 7th November 2007