Struggling With Feelings of Failure

Why do so many of us struggle with the feeling that we’re failing? In our writing life, parenting, jobs, friendships, or whatever it is, so often we don’t feel like we’re measuring up, either to our own expectations or those of others.

I’ve had many such moments of inadequacy, especially over the past year of juggling a growing writing career and family responsibilities.

My four year old daughter has a pink Barbie laptop, and she follows me around doing her “writing.” In her short life, she’s only known me as a writer-mama. But my oldest son has had the experience of a non-writing mom. For a long stretch of time during his early years, I didn’t actively write. In fact, after my twins were born, I didn’t type a word for a number of years.

My son has an established picture of what the mom-role looks like based on the years when I was busy having babies, changing diapers, and learning the ropes of homeschooling. Now that I’ve switched gears and am spending part of my time pursuing a writing career, he’s struggled with that change.

There have even been a couple of times when he’s come right out and said, “I don’t like that you write.” He’s expressing himself, which is good. But it’s at those moments I can’t help but feel like a failure as a mom.

I know I’m not a failure. But it’s easy to let feelings of inadequacy creep in. Based on the comments in response to the Super Mom Syndrome post, I’m guessing I’m not alone in my struggle. Many of you had a hard time seeing your unique gifts and roles in a positive light.

The fact is most of us can’t quit our day jobs, so we resort to squeezing writing around other responsibilities. We can’t do everything and do it all well. So, sometimes we have to let certain things fall by the wayside.

As I’ve pondered this failure-trap we fall into at times, I’ve wondered how we can learn to pull ourselves out. I’d love to hear your thoughts, because I certainly don’t have all the answers. But here are just a few things I try to remember:

*Organize and use time wisely. Sometimes I have to stop and remind myself of what’s truly important and make sure I’m living that way. It’s easy to talk about priorities, but a lot harder in reality to make the time for the things that matter most.

*Re-evaluate from time to time. When I’m feeling overwhelmed or wondering if I’m on track with what I’m doing, I use my husband or my mom as a sounding board. Sometimes an objective opinion helps us gain fresh perspective on where we really need to focus our time and energy.

*Turn failures into feats. My new demands have forced me to let go of some duties and hand them over to my children. For example, my 10 year old daughter loves cooking. If I hadn’t been attempting to reach my word count goals every afternoon, I may not have given her the opportunity to take over the kitchen and grow more proficient in making dinner.

*Keep perspective. Even when we’re doing our best to set priorities, there will be times when urgent issues demand more of our time and attention. When a deadline looms or when I’m finishing a book, I get especially focused on the task. I remind my family the end will come and I won’t always be so busy.

*Know not everyone will understand. Maybe my son won’t “get” my writing. But I can’t let his opinion define me. I have to rest secure in the knowledge that writing is part of what I need to be doing at this point in my life.

*Don’t forget to celebrate. I try to involve my family in the successes of my writing career—no matter how small. Finishing a first draft, accomplishing tough rewrites, getting an agent, finaling in a contest—I look for ways that we can all celebrate, laugh, and enjoy being together.

Yes, we will fail at times. But that doesn’t mean we’re a failure. When we stumble or fall, we have to pull ourselves back up and press onward, remembering we’re each unique and gifted in our own special ways.

Have you ever experienced feelings of failure? What are some of the ways you’ve pulled yourself out of the failure trap? Or are you still in it?


  1. Beautifully said, Jody. "Remind myself of what's truly important.." that helps put things in perspective for me. Thanks!

  2. Great post and so applicable to just about everyone, I would say. What woman doesn't feel pressure to be all to all people? We all want to feel we aren't.

    I like the thought of using my husband or mom or friend as a sounding board. Taking stock of our lives is a good thing!

    Thanks for the reminder.

  3. This is a brilliant post, Jody. Something I (and I have a many others) need to hear!

    I recently wrote an article for MBT ezine about balancing time and pursuing publication. I make some of the same points you make here.

    Even my husband, as incredibly supportive as he is, will occassionally express how much of my time writing can take up if I allow it. God is teaching me so much discipline through this process. I have to be so wise and diligent with my time. It's not easy and I'm most definitely still learning!

  4. I think everyone falls into the failure trap from time to time. But the most important question would be, could you walk away from what you do? Could you give up writing, painting, creating and still be happy?

    As to your son, is there some way you can make him a part of your writing experience? Let him read your story and ask his opinion? Or bounce ideas off of him?

  5. Hey, CJ those are a couple of great suggestions of things I could do to involve my son more in my writing process.

    And I really like your question: Could you walk away from what you do? Could you give up writing, painting, creating and still be happy? EXCELLENT test!

  6. Failure is in the eyes of the beholder. There are a number of ways to reconstruct a failure and turn it into success. I like to think of failure as stepping stones to where I am heading, not the end of the road. And in that light, no failure is really a failure. :)

  7. I find that I feel like I've failed (not a 'failure') when I'm trying to do too much at the same time (something you've touched on here).
    Like you, I have to remember to take it easy and calm myself down. Allowing others to do some of the work and take some of my responsibilities is hard, but it's good for me. My kids are now at an age where I can ask them to help me out. I have to remember to make full use of this.

  8. We simply have to realize that we won't be perfect at everything. And it isn't even wise to try. Since moving in with the BF a couple of months ago, I have been struggling with a double-sized household where most of the work stays with me (I work 35 hours, he works 50-60), two jobs *and* my writing. Guess who lost. Writing, of course. Last week I had a minor nervous breakdown, and afterwards decided that I am absolutely not interested in keeping the perfect house, where you could eat from the floor, and spend hours on cleaning every surface and putting everything away when I could be writing at the same time. (The BF was also informed that he will have to help more - or at least, don't leave such a mess.)

    I don't want to be Supermom. I don't want to wear handmade shirts and skirts. Of course, priorities may change once we have our kids, but right now I want to do my job as good as possible, and I want to write, and I want to live healthy. Everything else - please, get lost. (^v^)

  9. Here's a difference in generations: My son sat at his toy typewriter while I typed on mine years ago. My daughter used it too.

    The fact that you include your daughter in your writing is fantastic and will give her good memories.

  10. Jody - I read the title of your post and thought "she's got a book deal, how can she possibly feel like a failure?"

    And it hit me that even when we "make it" as writers, there are times when life hits back. Like your daughter, mine also likes to write (age 7) and that's awesome. I'm glad she gets that from me. But I've been spending a lot of time on the computer: writing, researching, blogging, etc. She's proud of my work, but sometimes just wants me to watch t.v. or play a game with her. :(

    Thanks for sharing!

  11. I don't think it matters what career we choose when we try to balance our lives, When I owned the bookstore, my daughter had to come down to it everyday after school and hang out when I worked afternoons. SHe didn't like it but I tried to involve her in our lives with it and she loved goint to CBA events. But it never hurt her and we remained very close. Now she has her busy career and I see her juggling with her son.

  12. Great post! It is hard to balance everything, but re-evaluating priorities and how time is spent is a good way to bring us back.

    I may not be able to do everything the way I'd like, but that doesn't mean I'm a failure. There are many ways to accomplish the same thing.

  13. I can only dream that one of my children will love cooking someday! *grin*

    Good post!

  14. I remember His Grace in my life.

    Also, I allow myself to feel the ugly feelings, but I give myself a time limit. If it lasts beyond a few hours or a day, I switch it up and do many of the things you wrote about. I force myself into fun, blaring music and busting a move with my kids. I get outside and go for a walk. I remember how small I am and how Big He is.
    ~ Wendy

  15. I love your tips! I think the celebrating part is important, especially after a hard push to meet a deadline, etc. Maybe a family game night or a special dinner?? :-)

  16. If we don't fail, we can't celebrate our successes. Failure is a part of life, whether we like it or not. Wouldn't we become bored with constant success? Doesn't failure exist to temper our egos and keep us in line? I like to think of failure/success as a scale - too much of either and we tip the balance. I think we need the balance of both failure/success in order to stay grounded as individuals.

    Boy, aren't I Mary Sunshine this morning? Ha! Sorry about that. I just can look back, now better than a few years ago, and see that my failures only made me stronger and more determined to succeed. Without failure - in any aspect of our life - I don't think we can truly appreciate the good things we have/gain in life. Just my thoughts . . .


  17. I def. feel that at times. And I evaluate. Is this a real feeling - meaning I need to spend more time with my family - or is it just a passing emotion. B/c I always want to put my kids first. Except kids don't need my attention all day. How I spend my free time is up to me.

  18. Jody, this post definitely struck a chord with me. As a full time working scientist who tries to write almost full time on top of that and still manage to raise two teenaged daughters, it's nearly impossible to keep all the balls in the air without occasionally dropping one. I'm lucky because my girls are older and try to get involved in my writing, giving 'advice' or suggestions or standing in as additional proofreaders (and finding typos, bless their hearts!). But even still, that doesn't stop the occasional comment from them when they've had a bad day; they're still kids and they still need me and I need to remember that more often perhaps.

    As working mothers we do our best and, yes, we occasionally fail. So we try to learn from our mistakes and we continue on. And if the dishes occasionally don't get washed, or the house isn't cleaned quiet as often as we'd like (I have to say, housework is something that's definitely suffered since I've decided to write as close to full time as I can manage), then so be it. As long as we try to remember the really important things in life...

  19. OMG, I feel like a failure all the time Especially in the parenting department! Just look at my post on "Entitled Little Narcissists" :)

  20. Hi Jody,
    I know I get scared once in awhile of all I've taken on and wonder if I'm good enough. But then I have to sit back and re-evaluate and make sure I'm not letting fear get in the way. Fear can stop us all in our tracks.

    My two girls, now 17 and 21 have seen me struggle with my writing over many years. They've seen me go to and return from writers conferences. They've seen me really bummed out over a rejection letter and ecstatic over a 3-book contract. They've seen me chase my dream and all the set backs along the way. This is good for them.

    If we keep going, keep trying, and don't give up, I think that's the definition of success. Now and again if we fail at some aspect of striving toward our dreams and goals along the way it's a lesson learned, and that in itself is good for our children to see. They will see that we aren't perfect, we're human, and we make mistakes(and it's not the end of the world). And then we move forward again.

    Was it Ford or Edison who said something like failure is only the opportunity to begin again. And look what they accomplished.

    Thanks for asking the question, I needed to explore the answer too.:)

    Have a great day!

  21. I've noticed when I start to feel this way is usually when my prayer/devotional life has fallen off. This may not be the way for anyone else, but it definitely impacts my inner thoughts.

    From the viewpoint of someone whose Mom worked out of the home (she was a telemarketer for a bookstore company), she let us know exactly what time would be "ours" - she worked in the mornings until noon. After that, we would go to the pool, outings, etc. with her. We came to respect her time in the AM. Sometimes she would have us stuff envelopes, etc. and that made me feel important. Mostly, though, I think I resented her time away from me only when I was bored. :)

    I think even seeing if a child would be interested in doing some research work for you would be a great idea. (and help you out too!) Hang in there.

  22. Sense of failure? Na, never - wait might be struck my lightening. The worst is the feeling of failing with friends and family.

  23. My twins are on the finishing end of homeschooling as they enter their senior year, and my other two are coming along, but I can so identify with this. There are days that I wake up and think, "I should quit writing for the good of our family. I can't do it all." But then I go out there and try anyway. Somehow it comes together in the end.

  24. Oh boy, can I relate to this post, Jody. Life is a juggling act for most of us anyway, but when you factor in writing, well, it's even harder. I have to lock myself away from my ever-interrupting family when I write, and often it feels like no matter WHAT I'm doing, I should be doing the other thing. Ugh.

    So, I pray. I try to use wisdom, and I make every effort give my family the face-time they crave. It's not easy, but it can be done, by God's grace.

  25. This is very pertinent for me at the present time. I have four kids aged 9 down to 2, the eldest has just been diagnosed with Aspergers. My mum-in-law who was a great support to me had a terrible stroke a few months ago and has only begun improve slightly. I have been feeling that I'm not doing anything properly, being a mum, being a housewife, being a writer, not to mention a loving spouse, a social person etc etc. I have had the line 'when are you going to stop writing etc' or 'you're always writing' but sometimes writing is the only thing that is me and keeps me sane. I want to find a balance but we are being stretched in so many directions, its hard to see how. I know I shouldn't lay it on myself but I feel so much is falling through the cracks. I guess if this was a friend speaking I would say, take care of yourself, be very gentle with yourself, take some time out somehow.

  26. Oh yeah. As a wife, as a mom, as a grandma, as a writer, as a . . .

    I often have to beat that feeling down. Sometimes all it takes is a little sleep. I also have to remind myself that "failing" gives me reason to focus on my need for Him. And to remember to crave His approval instead of human.

    I'm still--yes, still--on a declutter mission so I have fewer things to distract.

    Love the thought of getting your son involved somehow!

  27. Oh, Jody. The Lord inspired you to write this. Today. When I am feeling so like a failure as a mom. And my kids are grown!

    What do I do? I tell the Lord, "I'm such a failure," and He says, "So what?" I think about that for a moment, realizind He is undaunted by my inability to raise my kids perfectly. That's why He came: to make up for our lack, and bring us from death to life.

    I must trust that the same redemption working in my heart is available to my kids, and believe they'll reach out for it, and get out of the pit the devil has put them in.

    With tears racing down my cheeks, I will praise the Lord for what I cannot see: His grace grabbing hold of my two precious ones and not letting go.

    I love you for helping me today.

  28. When the failure monster bites, I have to remind myself that MY definition of success, the world's definition, and God's definition are not necessarily one and the same.
    Great post, Jody, and excellent comments!

  29. I've struggled with these feelings as well. But here's the deal...we need to realize that writing contributes to society and to our emotional well-being.

    If we're happy, so will be our families. Plus, mothers whether they are writers or not, spend time either sewing, cooking, scrapbooking or whatever, yet you never hear that they feel guilty for spending time doing those things.

    So writers need to realize that the stories they create will also benefit their families, too. Anyway, that's how I'm going to look at it. :0)

  30. Sometimes I ask myself the question: "Is there something better I could be doing right now." Lots of times that will shake me out of my waste of time activity and get going.

    I had a post today about trying to do it all and I think you really need to set your priorities because lately I've been feeling like if I can't do it all then I can't do anything.

  31. Oh Jody, I failed. I failed to keep hold of ME. I had a breakdown, trying to do it all. I went through days without something for me.

    My counsellor told me to get my poetry and stories, out of my system and find me again. So I did, I asked the children and DH for more help. Now my three adults can cook, iron and do any job thrown at them. They did not suffer, they gained life experience.

    My advice, is to keep writing. To never stop. Keep hold of you. Do not feel guilty, you are an individual as well as wife and mother.

    Gosh, sorry about the comment, sounds like a nag. LOL

  32. Yes, at times it feels like failure to be on this extended writing break. But my reasons are good ones and I know I'll get back to it when the baby allows me to get more things done during the day.

  33. Oh, yes... a sense of failure! It's the devil's favourite tool and he's chased me with it many times. Feeling and knowing come from different places -- one from the heart and one from the mind. Sometimes we let emotions tug us around until we can't reason our way back to the truth.

    I like what J.K. Rowling once said about failure... that the only way not to fail is to never try in the first place, and then "you've failed by default" anyway.

    I try to put failure in perspective and say it's just a pebble on the path. If I stub my toe I'm allowed to mutter a bit but then I have to keep going in order to complete the journey.

  34. For me, it really helps to have at least one person who will always say positive things about whatever I'm trying to do. That way, when I feel overwhelmed, I know I can call this certain friend and she'll tell me I'm awesome and actually make me believe it.

  35. Oh, that's easy for you to say! :-)

    A sense of self worth and thinking that anything I do is not failure allude me...

    but this is a great encouragement.

    Thank you!

  36. My son, 13, is also uncomfortable seeing me spend so much time writing.

    It's only been the past year or so that I've really ramped up my effort, so he hasn't grown up seeing me be anything other than the old momma, either. Sometimes he'll get really frustrated with me because I'm not cleaning or otherwise doing appropriate 'momma things'.

    My response is not always ideal because sometimes it makes me angry, because I am already feeling guilty for letting the housekeeping slide so much. But I can only do so much and writing is one of the important things right now. More important than washing dishes.

    He's the youngest and the other two are much more understanding of my new role as 'writer momma'.

    It's hard sometimes.

  37. I've definitely experienced moments of feeling like a failure--and a lot of those feelings didn't come on until I started writing. I think your points about re-evaluating and keeping perspective are the most important. What works for one person isn't going to work for another and sometimes it's hard to even realize what's going right or wrong until you stop to take a breath and see where life has taken you. Have a great day, Jody!

  38. Yes, I have, many times. To shake it off and gain perspective, I use many of the things that you shared. I realize too, that it's not all about me, and I try and think in terms of the big picture and what the Lord has called me to do.
    Blessings to you and your readers,
    Karen :)

  39. God has really helped me break this old enemy. With Him at the helm, it's kinda silly to see things as a failure!

    That old Audience of One again...

    Great post!

  40. GREAT post, Jody.
    I think God is SOOO good! Almost ALL of your posts lately have been exactly what I need, right when I need it.
    Thanks for being willing to listen, and follow God's prodding.

    I have to remind myself that I'm a mommy first.
    I'll always be a writer, wether it's in a tattered notebook with an unsharpened pencil, or on my laptop in the peace and quiet of my writing hour, but right now, my mommyhood takes first place.
    If someone cries, I have to tear myself away from writing to solve problems...which is ver often hard, but necessary.
    I'm a mommy.

    I'm doing this for God.
    He's not going to take my talen away, becuase I'm still using it even if I'm not writing my stories.
    I'm using it for our church for His glory.

    I'm a wifey.
    My husband needs me to kiss him when I see him. I need to know he knows I love him and respect him.

    No matter where I am, I'll always write, but I know other things are more important right now.

    Thanks for the reminder, AND for the incredible encouragment :D

  41. I do fail. Regularly. That's the big fat truth I can't really get around. It's why I so desperately need Jesus.

    I love that he is perfect and that he is partnering with me and causing all things to work together for those who love him. How would I bear it without this?

    I do need to work hard at keeping my focus on the next thing and on his complete sufficiency. That keeps me in the best place emotionally. I think God isn't as interested in our performance -- in our ability to keep up with it all as we imagine that he is. I think he's more focused on how we are interacting with him and others. Hard to measure qualities like compassion, humility, honesty, and selflessness are very important.

    Not that he doesn't care about the rest. He cares because he loves us so intensely and all that touches us is under his consideration.

    The biggest factor in my ability to cope is my understanding of this -- how much I am loved.

  42. What a timely post for me. I'm always trying to deal with the low end of the see-saw when it comes to writing.
    It's nice to meet you! I just found your blog today and I'm following!

  43. Hi Jody -

    Are you getting enough sleep? I find when I'm sleep deprived these feelings hit hard.

    I don't have children, but my family and friends sometimes don't appreciate my long hours at the computer. I carve out a couple of hours each day to see my Mom and devote most of the weekend to her.

    Susan :)

  44. Wow! I think you're doing an amazing job in keeping your focus on both your family and your own needs. It means a LOT to kids, over the long run, when they can be proud of their Mom's accomplishments. It may not come right away, but it will come. I wish I had been as balanced as you are, when my kids were young. Great post!

  45. I am a "Mr. Mom," and I try my very best to divide my writing and child raising responsibilities. I find that involving them in the process helps - and when that's not possible (often), I try to accommodate their sleeping schedule, and maximize our family time as best I can. The very fact that you recognize the impact your writing has is an indication that you care - which in all probability means you're already doing a fantastic job. Thanks for sharing.

  46. I used to hear 'I hate that you write once in a while from my daughter then I decided we needed to have a co-venture and we dreamed up a series for girls her age. I let her write it and it's her baby. It keeps her busy when I need to write my 'grown up' books. ;) I agree with sharing in all the triumphs no matter how small. It's important they see how hard climbing this mountain really is, and to feel the victories along the way.

  47. Thank you Jody! Your tips are all ones that I use to ensure that I stay somehow on the right track between all my adventures: writing, family, Sunday School teacher, etc.

    Just yesterday my youngest daughter and I had a conversation about the time I spend writing versus spending time with her. It is a struggle, and one of the reasons I try to write early in the morning.

    However, I know that I am a better mom when I get my writing in. When I don't write, I get a little crabby. All moms have their "sanity savers." My mom is a gardener, and I was a bit jealous of her plants from time to time growing up. Now, I appreciate her garden more.

  48. Um, yeah. Every day. The responsibilities snowball, but the hours do not expand. I agree with you that our children aren't always going to love our writing--but that's okay! They can still respect what we do.

    Thanks for this, Jody!

  49. It's interesting timing for me reading this today. I just received the latest in a series of rejections of pieces submitted to journals. This one is the hardest because I felt like my work was a good fit and was pretty sure I'd be accepted. Today's also the last day of school, my first year of not being a teacher - so I'm struggling with feeling like I've failed with what I set out to accomplish as a writer this year. I know the answer is to adjust the definition of success, but sometimes nothing works until the pain subsides.

  50. Celebrating our successes is so important to combat feelings of failure. Daily writing three things I did right the previous day, even if it's just making a great cup of coffee, helps keep me feeling okay. It's sad that we tend to concentrate more on what we didn't do, rather than what we DID do.
    Nice post, Jody!

  51. Aside from the overwhelming craving to create, the other thing we all have in common is the periodic overwhelming sense of failure. It's a cycle. It happens. It comes. It goes.

  52. Great post and so applicable to just about everyone
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