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The F Word: how I made failure a positive thing


By Grace McGettigan
12th Apr 2018
The F Word: how I made failure a positive thing

I stood with my toe carefully pointed out while anxiously counting the beats to the intro of my slip jig. I was nine years old and taking part in my first set of Irish dancing exams. Everything I’d rehearsed over the past three years had boiled down to this moment – and just as my cue came to dance, my ankle gave way and I wobbled to the floor. I’d failed (well, not exactly, the judges gave me a B), but in my mind (and as far as my confidence was concerned) I’d failed miserably. That day I swore I’d never dance again (dramatic, I know – but that’s what happens when you’re a perfectionist).

I’ve always strived to be the best and to have everything go according to plan. But that’s not humanly possible. I wish I’d learnt that sooner. Instead, I let failed relationships and an unsuccessful college course get me down, and in some instances, take over my life.

Take my first college course. I chose to study English literature at UCD because it was my best subject in school (A1 in higher level, thank you very much). At 17 years of age, my only passion was the written word – and sure I had to put something down on the CAO form. As it turned out, it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

I didn’t enjoy my time there. The classes weren’t for me, and while I’d made some amazing friends, every day of college became grey and gloomy. I didn’t feel like myself anymore, and after two years of long commutes to the so-called ‘concrete jungle’, I quit. It wasn’t an easy decision. I remember crying on my bedroom floor, feeling like I’d let myself and my family down; feeling like I’d never amount to anything without finishing my degree. If it weren’t for the support of my parents and sister, I’d probably never have gotten over that slump.

Taking ownership

I’ve since learned that failure doesn’t have to be a bad thing. You can find positivity in the most negative experiences. Not being in college forced me to take ownership of my life. I knew English Lit made me unhappy – but suddenly I had a chance to discover what brings me joy. I took a marketing course online to keep my mind active, learning things I never thought I could. I travelled a bit, I took driving lessons, and I spent more time with my family than ever before. My mam always says, ‘what’s meant to be will be’, and I’m positive now that dropping out of that course was one of the best things I’ve ever done.

New horizons

The best thing about failure is it opens you up to new possibilities. It makes you more creative, flexible, and in my case, forces you to try new things. For me, one of those things was journalism. Despite what happened at UCD, my love of writing never wavered and I soon realised I could make it my career. Flash-forward five years, I now have a first class honours degree under my belt and a job at one of Ireland’s most popular women’s magazines.

Love can happen more than once

Having been through two particularly painful ones, I’ve discovered break-ups aren’t the end of the world. Sometimes it’s easier to accept that it’s over and start moving on. Sure, failed relationships are heartbreaking (I definitely ate enough Ben & Jerry’s to feed the whole of Ireland), but I survived and came out stronger. I’ve developed the mindset of, ‘If it doesn’t make you happy, forget it (him) and delete it (also him)’. We all deserve to be happy, so hanging on to emotionally draining situations doesn’t work. I focused on myself, enjoyed my life in the single lane – and after two years of ‘me time’, I found love again.

Going forward

I’ve learned not to sweat the little things. Who cares if I fall over in the middle of a dance hall? It’s the getting up and carrying on that shows real character. As long as I can learn from my mistakes and make the most out of every situation (whether things go to plan or not), I’ll be fine. It will all be fine.

Photo: Daria Litvinova, Unsplash