In our latest episode of DC Edit Asks, we posed the question: What is your biggest fear? Overwhelmingly, it appears that the young, modern woman has become afflicted by a deep, nagging terror of failing in any shape, form or manner. We explore how failure has come to horrify women today and illuminate the fallacy in believing that we must be at the mercy of our falls.

You probably know that sinking feeling of failing and being setback; when you’re all at once trampled by the aching agony of never having meaningful achievement to your existence (at least you think), the depressing realisation that you were not meant to make the cut for the life you want and the profound regret of being forever resigned to an unremarkable, uninspiring place. Well, damn it.

When I was tasked to write this piece, my first (actually only) reaction was I can’t take myself seriously enough to do it, I’m not qualified either and “LOL, life is short who wants to read my thoughts!” The afore-described episode is evidently, from personal experience *cries in modern woman*. So if you were expecting this to be a neat and sunny article about overcoming the fear of failing/failure itself, you will be colossally disappointed. I haven’t figured that part out yet either. But nonetheless, here’s something from one decidedly failure-averse modern woman to another, with love. 

Maybe modernity is a double-edged sword

Modernity has anchored a fierce, glaring spotlight on gender and propelled our pursuit of, as well as progress towards greater gender equality. Standing at the heart of this quest to quell gender bias, the modern woman finds herself abruptly teetering at the edge of a new world. Seemingly less fettered by gender limitations and served with opportunity, there suddenly appears to be little reason why she should fail. In fact, it almost feels like the “modern woman” label itself comes with a measure of success, and must be earned. 

The problem? Beneath the veneer of newfound possibilities, lies an enduringly restrictive and specific definition of what it means to be a successful modern woman (or person for that matter), which has launched us all into yet another flurry of crises. If I can’t marry my studies with my passions with more money into a bombing exosphere-flying power suit before 30, can I still be a successful modern woman? 

Yes. (*terms and conditions apply)

Well, I can’t say that these social standards don’t matter. 

Having studied Sociology, I like to consider the self as reflexive and constructed through a constant interaction between oneself and others. I think of social expectations as a rather ubiquitous force, bearing on us in ways we might not realise or contemplate…perhaps even operating somewhere beneath our consciousness. In other words, it would be tremendously difficult to strike out on one’s own, with a sense of self that is absolutely and unconditionally independent of social standards.

However, if there is a perpetual interplay between the self and others, then this is no one-way judge fest from society unto us. Meaning, while I can’t change how others judge me, I surely can decide what to make of their judgement. We are not at the mercy of what others think. 

Nor are you at the mercy of your failure.  

Does not succeeding really, automatically means one has failed?

There appears to be a tight dichotomy between success and failure, which on second thought is rather silly. Remember the quote “Life is not a destination but a journey”? The disclaimer here – as one of my closest pals always tells me – is that it’s also a long, hard one. So to embark on life fixated with never experiencing any setbacks ironically seems like a pretty dreary and precarious way to live. How many chances would you never take? What would success feel like if you had never failed?

If failure at some point is inevitable, then it feels like one could be at the edge of a long, hard fall without a chance of even knowing, preparing or recovering from it. Failure is not an option. True, because it should be an inevitable and essential lesson – learning how to fall, discovering the way to do it right, then figuring out how to get back up. You’ll be okay, you’ll be on your way and likely even better armoured for the many more trials to come. With that, I leave you with the brilliance of Charles Bukowski from Factotum (1975)

“And, you’ll do it, despite rejection and the worst odds. And it will be better than anything else you can imagine. If you’re going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It’s the only good fight there is.

Take heart.

And take care,

Melisa Goh

Melisa Goh

up up and away


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