Am I a Failure?

Am I a Failure?

Written by Emilie

Topics: Goals

Around this time last year I was applying to study abroad for my final semester of law school (Fall 2010, i.e. now). I had big plans of moving to Europe, living in a cute cobblestone-laden city, and sipping coffee with the locals (whom would have, of course, become my close, personal friends)…

When my exchange application was accepted I proudly announced to anyone and everyone that would listen that I was ‘running away to Europe’- that I would be using this final semester abroad as a launching pad for my new expat existence and that I’d be staying in Europe indefinitely.

“I might stay in Copenhagen permanently or travel around till I find another cute city that I like better,” I told them. The possibilities were endless. The two things I was very vocal about not wanting were:

  1. To become a lawyer.
  2. To live in Montreal.

Don’t get me wrong, I adore Montreal. It’s home. But it’s also where I’ve lived since… forever. It felt too safe, too familiar.

Fast Forward a Year

Here I am, in the not-so-cobblestone-laden neighbourhood north of Copenhagen, sipping tea alone in my dorm room. I’m about to graduate, and guess what I’m contemplating? Moving home.

Here’s the thing. I haven’t given up on my dream, I’ve simply modified it.

Refining Your Goals

I like to view failure, not as a final outcome, but as a process of course correction. Lets say you have an idea of what you want, you take action, and then things don’t quite turn out as you imagined. What do you do? Do you throw in the towel and say “oh well, guess that didn’t work- better give up?”

Of course not. You take what you’ve learned, refine your process and try again. There’s a famous adage about how if you want to succeed, you should try failing more often. Failure is only a feedback mechanism.

More than that, failure is a sign that you’re taking action! Those who never fail are likely not going after the things they really want. And that is what’s truly sad.

What has Changed in the Last Six Months?

My exchange experience was not the dream I had envisioned. But it was something maybe more valuable…

Living abroad has provided me with distance from everything and everyone I’ve ever known. It has allowed me to get perspective on my life and reassess my priorities. Funny enough, It’s also led me to really value my experiences, friends and family back home. I mean, I’ve had all sorts of memories from childhood flooding back to me- things I had forgotten. That was strange and unexpected, but nice.

Anyway, what I realized is that the essence of my goal is really about finding a place where I have both community and excitement. As it turns out, that isn’t Denmark. It’s mainly due to the language issues, but there are other things as well. I’ll never really feel at home here.

A Solid Foundation for New Goals

I have several goals, like this one for instance, which will be much easier to pursue in North America. Becoming location independent, automating my finances and paying off student debt are additional goals of mine and those will also be much easier to do without the added financial strain of traveling.

The way I see it, it makes a lot of sense for me to spend some time living rent-free and getting things in order before I take my next step. (And there is a next step- a big one. I’m just not quite ready to share it yet. :)

Srini, over at The Skool of Life, often talks about how he had to move back in with his parents after graduating from business school unemployed. Yet, instead of viewing this as a failure, he viewed it as a necessary stepping-stone toward getting his business off the ground. In the words of his friend Rich Lazzara, “Sometimes you have to take one step backward to take twenty steps forward.”

None the less, I’ll admit that a small part of me worries about disappointing other people, since I did make such a big fuss about running away to Europe in the first place. Will people think I’m a quitter?

Redefining Success

When you’re someone who has a ton of different interests and wants to pursue them all, the idea of sticking to one path for very long can make you feel a little queasy. Sometimes you even get tired of a goal before you’ve fully completed it. Does giving it up and moving on to the next goal make you a failure? I don’t think it does.

So lets do something now. Lets redefine success. Here’s my proposed definition:

Success is achieved through setting a goal and pursuing it up until the point that you feel satisfied.

Once you feel that you’ve sufficiently mastered your goal, you’ve succeeded. It’s that simple. It doesn’t matter whether you reach ‘the end point’ or not.

It’s useless to continue pursuing something you’ve lost interest in. Yeah, some people might view you as a failure (and they might view me as a failure!), but you’re not. You’re simply being true to your nature.

When your heart calls for a change, you have to listen.


What experiences have you had with failure, success and goal refinement? Have you ever felt satisfied with a pursuit even though you didn’t reach the end point you had initially set? Share your thoughts in the comments below.


  1. Angela says:

    People have such strange views of failure. Too many people think if you don’t own a home, get married & have children at a young age, have all the coolest gadgets available, or work in a life-sucking workplace that you’re not successful. Blow a raspberry in their faces and tell them giving up on what makes you happy is a true failure. For too much of my life I thought I needed the above things to be happy, because that’s what I was brought up to believe. I’m learning to think differently and my happiness is shooting upward at a rapid pace.

    • Emilie says:

      Hi Angela,

      I completely agree. We really are brought up to believe that there’s a checklist of things out there and that once we complete everything on that list, we’ll be ‘successful’.

      It’s such garbage. How many people actually feel fulfilled on a deep personal level once attaining all the things you listed above? Nah, true happiness comes from looking inside and choosing your own path. And it sounds like you’re doing just that- which is awesome. :)

  2. Rob says:

    To me, success is little more than enjoying the path you’re on. Where that path leads, it matters little, so long as your enjoying travelling along it.

    As soon as that path becomes too worn for you, take another. Getting to the end of a path only means you can’t go any further. It’s best to keep your plans changing; to add that extra spice to life. To maintain your interest and passion.

    The goal is only there for direction. Whether you reach it or not isn’t important.

    • Emilie says:

      Nicely put Rob. I’ve also noticed that sometimes reaching the final destination can be anticlimactic. It really is the enjoyment of the journey that’s important. That’s where the fun happens.

  3. Peter J says:

    If that’s the path you decided on then it probably was a good idea. I always see it important though to watch out for when you decide to move away from something.
    When you start saying “this has never turned out from what i originally thought it would be” to often, maybe its just a thought because you could fail? An escapism for problems, im not doing well at this, maybe i can just say that it was never my interests.

    Sorry for all the rants :(

    • Emilie says:

      Hi Peter,

      I agree, it’s important to be able to distinguish between a genuine interest shift and fear. Fear can certainly rear its ugly head in a multitude of ways.

      I think a hint that your priorities have actually changed is when you have new goals that you want to pursue in lieu of the old ones. I have some really big goals, but like I wrote, I’m not quite ready to share them yet.

      Pursuing the old goals for the sole purpose of finishing them is useless. In fact, that can also be used as an excuse for not taking action on new goals that mean more to you. Sometimes both cannot be done simultaneously and you have to choose.

      Thanks for the comment!

  4. Shenee says:

    I have gone through something super similar! You think you want something, it’s your goal but a lot of the times we are so blinded by what we think we want to really understand what we really want.
    I thought I wanted to go to New York or London, live an amazingly social life full of awesomeness. What I really wanted was to be a part of a community and do the work I love with creative people. I can do that in a lot of places
    And that’s why I have shifted from a life of goal-setting to thinking more about my intentions and feelings. How do I want to feel? What do I want at the most basic level of things?
    There is a lot of pressure to dream big and sometimes you have to think small in order to really get it.
    Loved this!

    • Emilie says:

      Hey Shenee,

      I like the way you phrased it: ‘shifting from a life of goal-setting to thinking more about intentions and feelings’. Very thoughtfully put.

      There are a lot of ways to achieve the feelings we seek. Moreover, if you don’t know what’s behind your goal, you might achieve it and then be disappointed when it doesn’t give you that feeling you’d been looking for.

      Thanks for the comment Shenee. Also, I was listening to your awesomecast the other day. Fun stuff! Looking forward to hearing more.

  5. One of the biggest road blocks for me wasn’t the fear of going out on a limb, it was the fear of success. I was afraid I wasn’t going to be able to keep up with it. That the ball would get rolling and I would be running behind it trying to keep up before finally being so far behind I’d lose it. Now, I figure I will just have to build some sort of really cool contraption that sits on TOP of the ball so I can roll with it! (taking photos the whole way of course)

    There have always been times with consultations, no matter the topic, when I have told people that they needed to be gentle with themselves. That you HAVE to reevaluate every few months because we are constantly growing and evolving and, if we are, our goals are as well.

    The only failure, to me, is giving up or not trying at all. Doing your best and reevaluating things is not failure.

  6. Annie says:

    The man that never made a mistake, never made anything…

  7. JJ says:

    I just stumbled into this entry while discovering there is something called multipotentialites and was amazed at how similar my situation is.

    I was on a fast track becoming an engineer after college and after a master’s and going back to work I thought I had found my new passion.

    A job offer came from Germany and I was super excited to go, and made such a big fuss about it. Turns out it was not what I had expected, and the worst part, anxiety kicked harder than ever that I had to return home after two months.
    The job was not right, neither the place so that door just closed for me.
    I felt defeated and exhausted. I tried to push too hard on something that I was not interested in.

    After some time off work I am wondering what to do with my life, all this time and effort invested in one field seemed wasted, and it turns out I had just neglected to develop all my other interests. Science is my big one, but history, economics, outdoors, music, gaming, so many things I love, I just thought they where temporary distractions.

    I really need to thank you, I found this really inspiring and helped me get the focus to look for that next move I will make (still don’t know, hahaha).

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