Recently, I read an article by Alex Holder about failures. Not the kinds of failures you read about in magazines that start with a big royal fuck up and end with everything working out okay and the failure being the best thing that ever happened. The type of failures that are just that. Failures. Alex delicately called us out for glamorising our failures, by only ever talking about them when we’ve a tale of sublime redemption to round it all off. We’ve created a world in which it’s only okay to fail when you’ve succeeded in the end.
I was confronted. I realised I’ve been of the biggest perpetrators of this crime.
And so now, I’m sharing with you my failures without the context of eventual success. The things that don’t make it into my Instagram content, the things I don’t love to tell people about myself. The real shitty things that have happened, that don’t have a happy ending.
Now, I’ll admit, you could say that the fact time has moved on from many of these failures and I’m employed and currently able to pay my mortgage means I am still within the sphere of privilege that associates these failures with success – and that’s the whole damn problem. But while I can’t go back and tell you about these failures in real time, these are things that still make my stomach turn a little bit.
This is me, and these are my failures – without a tale of success to soften the blow.
1. I got fired
When I was 22 I got fired from a waitressing job I’d worked at for two weeks, and they didn’t ever pay me for the 40 hours I worked. I still don’t know why they fired me. I turned up at work one day with a 12 hour shift ahead of me, and one of the bosses said “Oh Emma, you’re here. I want to let you know that, um, we’re not all totally sold on you, so we’re going to let you go.” I was mortified because I’m actually a decent waitress. They ghosted me after that and I never received payment, and that feeling in the pit of my stomach when I walked out 10 minutes into my shift was mortifying. I’d just moved to London after Uni, and I needed that job. Yes, time has moved on, but I haven’t.
2. I emailed a finance publication pitching to write for them, and they said I wasn’t good enough
Earlier this year, I emailed a finance magazine with a very influential editor and pitched to write a piece for them. Their reply read “Hi Emma, I’ve had a look at your blog and your content is not what we’re looking for.” They then proceeded to point out an error in terminology on my blog as an example of why I wasn’t good enough for them.
I’m a content writer at my day job, and I’m very proud of this blog, so this was a real kick in the teeth that still makes my heart hurt a bit when I think about it.
3. My online store still hardly makes money
[UPDATED IN 2020: My thrifting business moved to @midsize.thrift on Instagram, and started to turn a profit. I’ve temporarily closed it down during the Coronavirus, but I might not reopen it. I was really struggling to keep it up with my full time job and other work, and admitting you’ve bitten off more than you can chew is more than ok.)
If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve probably seen my monthly flash sales of things I’ve thrifted from op shops that month. While I get a lot of DMs asking for tips on setting one up, what nobody knows is that about 1 in 5 items have been sold at a loss. It looks successful from the outside, because I open the store at a set time, and within an hour there has often been at least a few purchases. But, I make a lot of losses, whether through discounting, items not selling and having to be re-donated, postage exceeding my flat rate charge of $10, having to issue a refund for a defect I didn’t spot, having to rearrange delivery or compensate for lost items when my courier fucks up. Stock I’m still holding coupled with the expense of hosting and operating the ecommerce store means I’m still not turning a profit.
4. I inherited money from my Gran when I was 15 and I’d spent it all by the time I was 25
I didn’t blow it on anything specifically reckless, but I didn’t save a single penny of it for the future. I justify it by telling myself (and other people) that I spent it all because lots of my friends were given money or supported financially by their parents at Uni and I wasn’t, but that’s only half the story. No, my Mum didn’t pay my rent like some people’s parents did. But I also made some really, really shit decisions. I bought things nobody else my age was buying. I went on holidays when I shouldn’t have. And I essentially lived in a world where I could buy the £80 coat from Topshop that was too expensive for all the other students because I had that savings account and I could just keep pulling money over whenever I wanted. Not saving any of it towards a house deposit or meaningful travel beyond a beach holiday in Spain is, and will always be, one of my biggest regrets.
5. I started a health and fitness blog that failed
In 2015/2016, I got really into health and fitness. I didn’t realise it at the time but I had developed an unhealthy obsession with dieting and losing weight. So unhealthy that I decided I wanted to be a weightloss blogger. It didn’t last, nobody read it, hardly anybody followed it, and I stopped making content a few months later.
6. I lost almost 30kg, and put it all back on
I almost don’t want to define this as a failure, because your weight and the way you look does not define your worth. But it’s still something I don’t tell a lot of people. When I’d lost that weight, it was an achievement for me, and keeping it off for 2 years was an even bigger achievement. One worth telling people about. But while you’ll often hear ‘I lost 30kilos!’, you don’t regularly hear people giddily proclaiming ‘I worked hard on losing 30 kilos and put it all back on!’. On bad days I still sometimes feel like I failed by putting all the weight I lost back on again, despite painting a picture of body confidence.
7. I tried to set up a support group for ex-pats moving to Australia for their partners
Another tale of a failed side hustle on my part – you also don’t hear many of these. Having moved to Melbourne to be with my partner, I wanted to run events, create a support group and maybe even launch an expo for de facto partners, to help with visa applications, meeting new people and just adjusting to life in Australia. But it failed. Nobody joined, and when I reached out to other expat groups to tell them about my new project, I got replies that literally read “No, we are not interested.”
8. I said I’d run another half marathon this year and didn’t
In 2018, I ran the Sunshine Coast Half Marathon. I’d heard from lots of people who had also run one that they’d done the distance a few years back, and now could hardly run 5K. I told everyone I wouldn’t be that person, but I was. I stopped running for 4 weeks to let my muscles recover, and then never started again. I told myself I’d run the Run Marathon half in July, but didn’t book it. I still believed I’d do it and just book my slot last minute, but I didn’t. I still haven’t started training.
9. I lost money when a freelance client went into administration
While this might not sound like a failure on my part, in a way, it was. I’d been working with a freelance client producing content for their blog and brochures. The project was long and I invoiced at certain milestones, but I didn’t ever draw up a contract or make anything official – a common mistake in the early days of freelancing. The company ended up going into administration and I never heard from them again. I lost about $600 of income (which was a lot of work hours at my rates at the time), and I always feel ashamed when I think about it. It still stops me from wanting to go freelance again.
10. I left my real estate job to pursue a relationship with a guy I’d known for a month
Perhaps not a failure in its truest form, but still a decision I don’t tend to tell people when I’m talking about my career path. When I was 22, I really wanted to work in real estate, and I got a job doing just that. My boss loved me, I was on track for a promotion, and I seemed really good at it. I was in the groove. Then, 3 months in, I quit to be a full time waitress, so that I could have time off every few months to fly back and forth to Australia to make my relationship with Mr TBG work. Sure, looking back it was fine because here we are almost 6 years later still together, but it was still a very risky move that I spin through rose-tinted glasses when employers pick up the gap on my CV.
11. I tried to become a photographer, but sucked at it
When we hear about upskilling, side hustle startups and career changes, we often only hear the good bit. When a nurse took a risk to become an artist and it worked, or when a teacher broke free to become a personal trainer. The reality is, not everything you want will happen. And that’s ok. There was a time when I wanted to be a photographer. I wanted to become a photographer for bloggers and help them shoot content. So I started to teach myself. I became au fait with aperture, ISO and shutter speed, but no matter how good you are at operating a camera, sometimes you’re just a bad photographer. And I am one of those people. I wasn’t good at it, and I shut down my blogger services side hustle after a few months.
It’s important that we talk about failure; that we normalise things not always working out the way you hoped they would. We are not more worthy if good things happen to us, and we are no less worthy if things don’t work out. You don’t need to have a happy ending to every story to be able to tell it to people, and you don’t need to feel ashamed. Failures are a fact of life. Yes, you can channel these failures and learn from them, you can drive that energy to help you succeed in other things, but you don’t have to wait for success to erase your failure. You are you, in success and in failure.