Notes on Elizabeth Day’s ‘Failosophy: a handbook for when things go wrong’

By Trina Read

No one likes to fail, but read this book and you’ll feel okay.

Failing can be difficult. I know. I have failed my driving test three times and honestly every time it broke me down a little bit more. But then I decided to look at it a different way and see how each time I failed I learnt something about my driving that I could improve – that didn’t exactly ease the sting of all the money I had spent on tests, but it helped. Failure is hard to deal with but it doesn’t have to be. 

My friends bought me a copy of Elizabeth Day’s Failosophy: a handbook for when things go wrong, after I had finished uni a month or so back. I felt like I was failing by not having a job lined up or any kind of plan post uni. My indecisiveness about my path which used to be a joke among friends was now becoming a little too real. This can make you feel like a failure, even if you know you aren’t. Elizabeth Day’s book Failosophy intends to provide a handbook for failure and how to look at it differently. 

Here are a few of the things which I took away from reading Day’s book. 

1. There is no future you

For me, this was the most interesting and eye-opening point that Day makes in her book as it was something I perhaps hadn’t considered much before. Day describes how having a five-year plan for her life was actually ‘making [her] feel like a failure for not living up to [her] own expectations’. She focuses in on New Year’s resolutions – something which I myself had given up on long ago after realising I would never achieve them – and she points out how we make our resolutions after the Christmas period, and they are always unattainable so when we fail to run every day we feel like a disappointment etc etc. I think this point was particularly resonant for me right now as it can be hard to live without a plan (when interviewers ask me where I see myself in five years, I usually have to just find a vague way of saying I’m not entirely sure). I do think ambition is important as it helps you get up in the morning and work hard but having a time frame for your goals is counterproductive and could just lead to disappointment for your future self when you could look at the success of your present self.

2. Everyone feels like they’ve failed their twenties 

This is perhaps the point which should have resonated with me the most right now and it was definitely a close second. Nobody prepared me for how I would feel graduating without a job. It was always something I assumed would be easy. I thought it was a given that everyone magically had a job upon finishing their degree because that’s what we paid for right? After many rejection emails without feedback and a decreasing tank of motivation to apply, it was hard not to feel like I had failed as a graduate, despite seeing countless other graduates going through a similar thing. This section of Day’s book is reassuring – she points out how there is a pressure to be ‘pursuing rewarding careers, putting down roots, forging healthy, long-term relationships and ideally saving towards a pension too..’. It made me realise just how unsettled your twenties really are. There is a lot of change, and even more independence than before and to top it off, most of the things we are automatically supposed to know how to do were never taught to us at school. At this point it seems unrealistic to even have your life together by your 30s. 

Overall, Day’s book was reassuring for me, however I feel like a lot of the things that were covered in the book scratched the surface and were thoughts that I already had in my mind before reading. It was good to be reminded, however, and I will definitely follow her podcast ‘How to Fail’ as I think the best way to reassure yourself about your ‘failures’ is to hear those we consider successful talk about their own ‘failures’. This is definitely worth reading if you are trying to deal with a certain perceived failure in your life right now or just think you could do with some advice on how to deal with failure in the future because, big surprise, failure is a part of life!

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