UPDATED: Community Question: How Do We Stop Feeling Like Failures?

Oct 10 2013

Every once in a while, I get a letter from a friend of this blog that touches a tender place in my heart. Usually a place that’s been well worn or is still a little sore or takes me back to the desolation that was there before the consolation. This is one.

Dear Beth,

My name is Brooke. I’m in my 20’s, married, in the process of adopting two preschool-aged children, living in a small village in Africa, trying to finish graduate school, and running a nonprofit for vulnerable kids.

I’m fucking exhausted, honestly.

But I’m also happier than I’ve ever been. Happier and sadder and stressed-er.

There is so much to do that even keeping up the to-do LIST is feeling beyond my ability.

How did you do it? I’ve dealt with depression my whole life. But I’m happy this time – my problem is the anxiety. It literally feels like it’s consuming me from the inside out. I spend all my time feeling like I’m letting everyone down – my kids, the orphanage kids, my colleagues, my husband, my parents. It’s all internal – everyone else has been great and supportive – but I honestly feel like I’m breaking into pieces every single day.

I live in a tiny village – water and electricity aren’t always available, and decent therapists definitely are not. I have to go to the city every few months just to get the medication I have been on for years – except the place we used to get it isn’t safe anymore. Just in case I wasn’t anxious enough already.

I love your post about the 4 things you can do – 1.5 to 2 of them at a time. I feel the same way, except my list is longer and the people who will be let down if I fail feels endless.

RogerHutchison1We are scrambling to get everything together for a pilot project benefiting kids in the orphanage and kids aging out. It’s a big project for a tiny grassroots with a single paid employee to pull off. I honestly adore every single one of those children, and it breaks my heart that I can’t be mama for all of them. So I try to fight that guilt and sadness by working to make their lives as good as they can be in this context. But I’m only one person, and so doing it is killing me, and not doing it will kill me too.

Ok, so I know this is longwinded and a little crazy sounding – my life is legitimately a little crazy. And here’s the awful part – I’m more anxious and stressed than I’ve ever been.

This entire huge project depends entirely on me, and I feel like I’m failing completely. And it’s not even failing – we’re doing well, we’re growing and it’s good but it’s also so, insanely, devastatingly terrifying.

I just want to hide from all the pressure. How do you fight that? How am I supposed to fight that? And how do I stop feeling like such a failure with my beautiful, amazing, incredible kids who I adore and have loved from the first moment, 3 years ago, that I laid eyes on them? Why does getting something that I’ve been wanting for so long make me so miserable?

Feeling lost and needing a break.


Of course, Brooke’s name isn’t really Brooke. I’ve just named her Brooke to protect her anonymity, although, starting now, I’ll call her Not Brooke in keeping with our tradition started by Not Evan and Not Rebecca who brought us our first important Community Questions, 1) How do you find – and keep – the joy in parenting? and 2) What do you do when you feel inferior to other parents?

And, well, I suppose I can’t speak for you, but Not Brooke’s questions are so achingly familiar to me.

How is it that I’m this in love with my kids
and this happy with my life
and this purposeful
and still so terribly paralyzed
and unhappy
and anxious
and scared?

How is this dichotomy even possible?

And how do I fix it?


How do I fix this mess that is me?

And how do I not fail my people in the meantime?

Like always, I don’t even know how to fix this for myself, much less for Not Brooke, you know? I’m just as lost and found as ever, which is to say horribly turned around and also exactly where I need to be for now.

Which brings me to us. Our community. Because I’m becoming more convinced all the time, friends, that each of us is only meant to have our small pieces of the puzzle. Our little bit of the answer. THIS is why stories are important. THIS is why we must share ourselves. THIS is why we must find our people. Our community. Our Village. Because we need all of the puzzle pieces – including the frayed, ripped, bent bits – to put the picture together. To make sense of this life. Hiding our messy pieces, after all, only creates a hole in the masterpiece that is all of us.

And so I wrote Not Brooke back, and this is what I said.

Oh, geez — I’m so sorry it’s taken me days and days to get back to you, Not Brooke. If you knew how far behind I am with correspondence, though, you’d probably congratulate me that  I only took this long. :/

First of all, WOW you’re doing a LOT! A lot of things! You are doing ALL OF THE THINGS, Not Brooke. How are you even doing all those things? You’re amazing. I wonder if you know that. I wonder if you’re too tired to care.

Second, I don’t see how you could possibly be less than stressed. Of course you’re stressed and terrified of failing completely. And no doubt you should have asked somebody other than me for sage advice because the only way I’ve ever done anything worthwhile is by being stressed and terrified of failure. Not that stress and terror leads necessarily to success; I mean, I’ve been stressed and terrified and still failed loads and loads of times. It’s just that, for me, all the Things Worth Doing seem to come with bonus gifts of stress and fear. But don’t fret! For sane people, maybe the Things Worth Doing come with relief and ease and a sense of triumphant satisfaction. Maybe that’s true! Maybe you can be one of them! Of course, you’ve already said you’re stuck on the depression and anxiety spectrum with me so you probably don’t qualify for total sanity, which makes this the Worst Pep Talk of All Time.

So… you’re welcome for that.

Third, let’s ask other people. Mostly because, let’s be honest, I’m tanking here. I only have 3 tiny things that have helped me with the Overwhelming Sense of Failure:

1. medically treating the depression and anxiety,
2.  forgiving myself for being broken, 
3. learning not to listen to the Voice of Failure because she is the very crappiest of friends, and I’m tired of letting her wreak havoc on my soul.

But I’m certain – positive – there are more ways than these. More pieces of this puzzle. So I’m going to ask our community on the blog what they do. For both our sakes, I can’t wait to see what they have to say.

THANK YOU for your story, Not Brooke. For your honesty and transparency.

Sending you and yours lots of love,


So friends, I’m turning Not Brooke and myself over to you. Tell us your story. Show us your piece to the puzzle.

“I just want to hide from all the pressure.
How do you fight that?
How am I supposed to fight that?
And how do I stop feeling like such a failure?” 

What do you say?


UPDATE for December 31, 2014 – January 2, 2015: So many of you have asked over the past year how you might help Not Brooke’s work with her orphanage kiddos in Africa. Here’s a quick an tangible way to make a difference! For the next 3 days, Not Brooke’s organization, The Small Things, is running a sponsorship drive. You can make a one-time donation of any amount or, if you’d like to make an ongoing impact, you can sponsor a child. Here’s the link to all the sponsorship drive information. And here’s the link to make a one-time donation.


RogerHutchison1Image by Roger Hutchison used with permission.
You can find out more about Roger and his art at The Painting Table and on Facebook.

40DaysofGraceLogoYou can see all of the 40 Days of Grace posts
here on the Five Kids blog and here on Facebook.