Why we all need to stumble more

There’s a lot in the air, at the moment, about failure and bracing yourself through it. There’s Farrah Storr’s excellent book, The Discomfort Zone, which emphasises the difference between “slog” and “grind”.


If you find yourself “slogging” away, that’s a kind of failure in itself, as you’re just exhausting yourself. But if you’re engaging in the “grind” towards something better, then that’s a form of success because you are focused on your aim. There’s the inspiring podcast How to Fail With Elizabeth Day, where she and a host of amazing interviewees talk about all the things that have gone “wrong” in their lives, which often turned out not to be so wrong, after all. And there is my own biggest current #fail: my constant attempts to not give up on high heels, despite the fact that they seem to have given up on me. (I actually went to the GP about this. Diagnosis? I am a 45-year-old woman. There is no cure, apparently.)

 One of my favourite thoughts on failure comes from Gretchen Rubin, author of Better Than Before and an expert on how to help yourself get through tough stuff. She advocates what I have dubbed “intentional failure”. This is how she describes it: “A stumble may prevent a fall.” What does this mean? Two things. One, let’s not beat ourselves up when we stumble, because at least we didn’t fall. And, two, let’s work out how we can stumble more often, because the more we stumble the less likely we are to head towards a major fall. I do not think she meant to apply this literally to footwear as I have. But never mind.

 The fear of stumbling – fear of even the tiniest stumble – is an area of life I see a lot of women struggling with. For example, I have a friend who is growing her start-up business at the moment. (Unfortunately, it’s not a ballet-shoe company, as that is probably the solution I really need right now.) It’s doing really well, but she has reached the stage where she needs to expand and she has even had someone offer some investment to help her do that. She needs to hire new people, get a new vision, expand her strategy. Her problem is – and I sympathise – that she is scared to get the next step wrong. She does not want to stumble. What if she hires someone and they turn out to be a dud? What if the idea she has had for a new product line is actually duff? At this stage, there’s the possibility of an expensive mistake or a waste of time.

New motto? More style stumbles, more life stumbles, fewer actual, pavement stumbles

 But this is not the time to be cautious. This is the time to get stumbling. It’s basically allowing yourself to ask the question: “Would it really be so terrible if I gave myself permission to make some intentional mistakes? If I did that, what would my next move be?” It’s very easy to hire someone who might be the wrong person. It’s very easy to write a strategy plan that could be the wrong strategy. It’s very easy to move forward if you make room for imperfection.

 What is not easy is paralysis, self-criticism and overthinking. Small, calculated stumbles are the way forward. Now, I just have to work out how this applies to my shoe collection. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but know the mistake I’m really afraid of is this: looking stupid in trainers when I have worn heels all my life. (Yeah, I know, first-world problems. But I really do love heels.) Metaphorical stumbling, however, is really about trusting yourself to style it out no matter what. And I’m pretty sure I can do that, both in life and below the ankle. New motto? More style stumbles, more life stumbles, fewer actual, pavement stumbles.

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