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Four Ways to Avoid Feeling Like a Failure

So! Everyone I know right now seems to be having a quarter-life crisis. Some people don’t feel like they’re good enough for their field. Some got through 5+ years of education only to find out they hate the nitty-gritty of their field. Still others just don’t know what they want to be when they grow up despite being old enough to pay for their own insurance. Whatever the cause, a lot of people feel like they’re a “failure,” despite any and all achievements. Here’s how I’ve convinced myself (mostly) that I’m not, and nobody is, a failure.

Don’t judge your career “failure” by what others consider to be success.

Confession time: I used to be pretty judgy in high school. I would never gossip or tell someone to their face, but I had a pretty strict hierarchy for what defined a “successful adult.” If someone didn’t match my conception of success to a T, then I’d always feel a little smug about how I could and would Obviously do better when I became a real adult.

Well, surprise! I’m a real adult now (so I’m told), and I absolutely do not fit my conception of what success should look like! I don’t fit my field’s conception of success, either. While music is great, and I will never ever give up singing, I will also never have a touring career, because it conflicts with everything my heart holds dear – routine, stability, pets, my fiance.

If you’re in a similar position, where you feel like others will judge you for doing things a certain way, then I say screw the others! Do what makes you happy! If that’s performing indie rock after getting a classical degree, then do it! If that’s switching your major to marketing because the thought of playing your instrument forever gives you hives, then go for it! Your career should be something that supports you. Work to live, don’t live to work. Screw the haters, do what’s best for you.

Consider whether you’re in your field because of sunk cost fallacy.

Are you three years into a degree and hating it, but don’t wanna switch because THREE YEARS? Do you play oboe now because, well, you’ve always played oboe and you don’t know what else to do? Guess what: those are bad reasons to keep doing a thing.

If you don’t have passion for something AND the field pays crap, then you should reconsider what you’re doing. At that point, switching isn’t a failure – it’s self-preservation. The time will pass anyway. Would you rather it pass while you coast and don’t change anything? Or do you want time to pass while you take steps to do what you love or earn guest-house money?

Be willing to redefine success.

If you’re like judgy high-school-me, then you should figure out why you define success the way you do. Everyone has their own definitions, and that’s fine! However, if you want to have a happy life, you should Not base your definition of success on, status, visible wealth, specific jobs, or specific possessions.

Defining success by how others think about you is going to leave you in a nest of neuroses and feeling like a failure. Figure out your own definition of success, absolutely! Just consider whether it should be based upon one very specific outcome, or a more general set of ideas, like being challenged, being happy, having enough money and free time, etc.

Have more than one interest or skill.

If your idea of success is being better than others at one specific thing and nothing else, you’re in for a bad time. The more hobbies I have, the happier I am. The more stuff I do outside of my obligations, the happier I am. The more I pay attention to the world outside of my studies, the better I feel about not being the next Joyce diDonato. Furthermore, my love of writing is currently paying about 2/3rds of my bills. Being a well-rounded person is good for you!

Hey. No one is a failure – we’re all doing the best we can. You’ve got this.

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