Last March as we first went into lockdown I felt a great need to impose a structure on my time which stretched ahead in ways both unfamiliar and scary. I assume that it’s a similar feeling when you retire after a lifetime of working to a clock set by the demands of your job, or maybe when you lose your life partner whose needs or company no longer shape your routine.
Anyway, it felt necessary to set aside short periods during every day for pleasure and a different mental stimulation than the demands of my LFF working life. So I instituted a proper lunch break from 1 - 2pm when I would listen to a podcast whilst doing a jigsaw puzzle. I had done neither of these activities before, which added greatly to the enjoyment and the mental refreshment they provided. And I loved both activities so much that they are now an essential part of my day, lockdown or no lockdown. I listen to a variety of podcasts, many of them about politics, but one of my favourites is called ‘How to Fail’ with Elizabeth Day. There’s a huge back catalogue of listening as she’s made these podcasts for ages, and the fascination is in hearing from people like Graham Norton or Baroness Brenda Hale (former head of the Supreme Court) or Ed Milliband about the lessons they learned from their many failures.
We tend to see people in the public eye as successful, but all of Elizabeth Day’s guests, without exception, have experienced failure. Each shows the truth of Winston Churchill’s aphorism: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.”
I have experienced success with Look Fabulous Forever at a relatively late stage of my life. It’s not my first success or even my first successful business venture but perhaps it is the one that I am able to enjoy the most. Why? Because my long life has given me a much better perspective on both success and failure. You win some and you lose some and you realise that the epic fails contain many opportunities for learning and growth.
1. I Failed at Every Sport I Tried
Yes, all sport, without exception, but especially tennis and hockey which we played at school. In addition I can’t run and am a very poor swimmer. I see this failure as a problem with labelling kids. My education happened mostly during the 1950s and there was a perception that children were either ‘sporty’ or ‘arty’, or ‘bright’ or ‘dim’. As soon as the label was attached, you tended to live up to the expectation set by that label. It didn’t take long for my ‘hopeless at sport’ label to become very firmly attached. Always last to be picked for any team, I learnt not to mind because everyone knew that I was physically feeble and definitely not ‘sporty’. It took 69 years for me to discover that I have a strong and fully functioning body from the neck down. As Churchill said ‘Failure is not final’ so I have surprised and delighted myself with the progress I’ve made in five years working with Lindsay, my personal trainer. I’ll never know if, given the right encouragement, I might have enjoyed sport throughout my life. However my biggest lesson has been that it really is never too late to revise, challenge and overcome a long-held and deeply entrenched belief about yourself.
My second experience of failure was my GCE ‘O’ Level Maths exam. This came as no real surprise as I was hopeless at Maths, disliked the teacher we had in our girls’ convent school in Newmarket for a subject I found impenetrable. I (used to) have an almost photographic memory, so exams in which you regurgitate what you’ve learnt hold few fears for me. Maths was different because you had to understand basic principles in order to work out the right answer. Without my Maths ‘O’ level I’d not be able to go to college, so I was given some tutoring and managed to scrape a pass at re-sit. This failure had little impact on my self confidence as I’d passed every other exam and it was a relief at A level to concentrate on French, English and History, all of which I enjoyed. So ultimately I got all the exams I needed to go to university. Failing at Maths taught me that sometimes you have to work hard at something you find irksome and difficult but it’s always worth it to achieve your goal.
3. I Failed at Teaching
I was a primary school teacher from 1969 to 1973. Can I apologise now to anyone reading this who was in Miss Spencer’s class at Great Heath Primary school in Mildenhall, or in Mrs. Cusden’s classes at Buckskin School in Basingstoke. I am so sorry that I was hopelessly inadequate and utterly overwhelmed by the 40 of you in each of my classes who had the misfortune to encounter me at 7 years of age. Looking back it was a clear case of a round peg in a square hole. I’d just spent three years of my life qualifying to do this job and realised quite quickly that I had neither the patience, energy or enthusiasm required to control, let alone teach, 40 children with vastly differing needs and abilities. At college an inspirational tutor had memorably said “do the profession a favour and leave it the moment that you find yourself becoming a grey and boring teacher”, so I took his advice and left teaching to start my first business. Since then I have never been employed but have always earned a living. I’ve learnt that no experience is ever wasted and that we build skills over a lifetime. I was hopeless as a primary school teacher but was a very successful management trainer as I actually loved teaching adults.
4. I Failed at Dieting
From the age of 18, I spent twenty five years of my life trying to get to my ‘perfect’ weight of 9 stone 7 pounds, which according to various charts is the ‘ideal weight’ for my 5’ 7” height. For most of that time and as I write, I never achieved this goal. Not only did every diet I tried fail miserably, it also sparked a truly dreadful cycle of starving and bingeing. Food became a battleground in which I was either severely restricting my calorie intake by ‘being good’ or I was eating obscene quantities of sickeningly sweet and starchy ‘bad food.’ My ‘good’ days were pretty much balanced by my ‘bad’ days so that my weight stayed reasonably stable, but I felt overweight and therefore dissatisfied for most of the time. Then at 42 I got divorced and was no longer responsible for daily family meals. It was also a time of considerable emotional turmoil and I became uninterested in food and all aspects of dieting. It broke the vicious binge/starve cycle and I have never gone back to it. I gradually learnt that food wasn’t ‘good’ or ‘bad’ but, eaten mindfully, it could be a source of pleasure, sustenance and ultimately of health. I also threw out my bathroom scales and learnt that happiness was having no idea what I weigh!
My last epic fail would be ‘marriage’. I see Super Troopers celebrating fifty or more years of married life with their partner and I am filled with awe and admiration. I salute you all for making a success of the long partnerships you have formed with your other half. I married at 22 and divorced when I was 42. There was much that was good during those twenty years including the births of my two beautiful daughters, but, almost from the first day of married life, I chafed against the constraints imposed by my married state. In the aftermath of divorce I would have struggled to find lessons, but thirty years on, I realise that I am probably unmarriageable. So here I am at very nearly 74 working joyfully at LFF, finally able to love and celebrate the only body I will ever have, and loving my independence, autonomy and single state. And without those epic fails along the way, I would not appreciate just how much I am enjoying this, my most authentic life.
Upcoming Event Information:
Teatime with Tricia - Karen Haase, Owner of Yorkshire Eyeware
Karen is an eyeware expert, dispensing optician and owner of 3 'Yorkshire Eyeware' practices with her husband. She has a passion for eyeware and can advise customers on colour, shape and style. Tricia and Karen met at a 'Silver & Sassy' Event, where Tricia was drawn in by the exciting glasses frames that Karen had on display
Were you a twin and separated at birth, Tricia? You sound exactly like me, all the same failures, and the same age, too.
Wow, Tricia - I learnt so much from this day’s post. You are 4 months younger than me, so we share a lot of context to our lives - and I too failed Maths GCE. But you were quicker to sort it out than me- it was 35 years before I passed a modular GCSE! I especially loved your lockdown lunchtime routine. I listened to the Lady Hale podcast and it was like an ‘open sesame’ to the world of podcasts. They had rather passed me by, but now I will add them to my daily life. Just the thing for when the eyes need a rest from screens. I was also reminded of your film club, another great resource you provide, which is especially valuable for people on fixed incomes. All this as well as makeup for older skin and grey eyebrow! Many thanks for doing what you do, and for doing it so well. Monica
Thank you Tricia, another inspiring blog! I so agree with your wise words, we cannot be good at everything! Being one and the last of 6 children, home life wasn’t great but endured. School was a relief, I participated in every after school activity just to prolong my stay there but excelled in none except needlework! I married just before my 21st birthday and struggled for a couple of years until my son and daughter came along! I would be naive to say I was a good mother but I did the best I could in the circumstances of only one income. I was happy and hoped my family were too. I am very proud of my children and my four grandsons all under five, I have stayed married since 1975 and my husband has mellowed. I am now much stronger and more outspoken and value all my friends and love and thank you Tricia for Super Troupers! They have certainly along with work, supported me through these last couple of years!