How to Fail and Lessons Learned

How to Fail
Credit: Then Do Better

In a world where perfection is proudly perched on a pedestal and we’re all jumping ever higher to grasp it, the idea of failure is anathema. We want the perfect body, partner, job, house, children, holidays and so much more besides. Anything less than perfection is unacceptable.

I can’t remember how or when I first came across journalist and author Elizabeth Day’s How To Fail podcast, but am grateful that I did. (It was probably via Twitter; the platform has its flaws, but I love it.) As soon as I heard the words “Because learning to fail actually means learning to succeed better,” I was addicted. Her skilful and empathic interviews with authors, musicians, athletes, actors and philosophers have taught me a great deal about how they’ve overcome all manner of obstacles and achieved impressive success in their industries. (Author James Frey’s episode about going from a literary god to a literary pariah is enlightening; his lack of regret and sheer confidence is astounding.)

In the book inspired by the podcast, Elizabeth starts by saying, “I have evolved more as a result of things going wrong than when everything seemed to be going right. Out of crisis has come clarity, and sometimes even catharsis.” Maybe I’ll write a bestseller and appear on the podcast one day (#DreamBig), but until then, here are my top three failures in chronological order and the lessons I’ve learned along the way.

Failure to recognise a golden job opportunity in Paris

How to Fail
The Sacré-Cœur, Montmartre

Before food and fertility became big passions, there was (and still is) one more love in my life beginning with F: French. After falling head over heels for Paris during my year abroad, I spent a year working in Montreal before being drawn back like a moth to a flame.

The first few months were mostly dull as I was teaching English and living with a host family in Juvisy-sur-Orge, disappointingly far from central Paris. Things improved when a friend told me that the global real estate company for which she was working needed a temporary admin assistant in the Valuations department. The office was around the corner from the Champs-Élysées and I was now living in Montreuil; not the most desirable area, but at least it was on the metro map.

Just before my four-month contract expired, the department head told me that they urgently needed a native English speaker with excellent French to expand the Valuations team. He was impressed with my linguistic ability and offered me the chance to be trained as a chartered surveyor. I’d be following a similar career path to my friend, starting with a post-graduate diploma. I was flabbergasted by this unexpected offer and needed some time to weigh up my options.

“I was terrified of not being good enough.”

But I weighed them up totally wrong. Prior to this meeting, I’d applied for and accepted a permanent role as a translator for a small translation company in Levallois-Perret in north-west Paris. Despite never wanting to be a professional translator (I’ve always preferred subtitling), I decided to stick to this plan because I was scared.

I was terrified of not being good enough, not being charming enough for clients, standing out like a sore thumb in an all-white team, being sent packing when it all failed. I never once thought that it might just work out, having been in the right place at the right time with the right skillset. Even with a BSc and MA under my belt, a First-Class Honours and a Merit respectively, I had zero confidence in myself, zero willingness to take a risk, zero ambition.

I failed to capitalise on this potentially life-changing opportunity out of crippling fear. It makes me extremely sad to read these words because I clipped my own wings before even attempting to fly. I may well have sucked at surveying, but I’ll never know.

However, I wouldn’t have had a lot of time on my hands if I’d taken the job, which would’ve meant that my now-husband and I wouldn’t have rekindled our friendship. This reconnection blossomed into love and we’ve just celebrated our 12th anniversary, so it all worked out in one way.

Failure to avoid dating and living with a loser

How to Fail
The Moulin Rouge, so close to my flat

Terrible decisions are made when you have low self-esteem, low self-worth and seek validation from the opposite sex. During those four months in Montreuil, I was prone to boredom. I spent most of my weekends with friends, so when they started settling down, I started to feel lonely. I wish that I’d used this time to enjoy the many museums and some solo meals and trips across France and Europe, but none of this appealed to me until much later.

So, when a reasonably nice-looking guy chatted to me on the metro one day, I felt flattered and took his number. I wasn’t intending to call him, but it was an easy way of letting him down gently without getting aggro in return. A few weeks later, I made what would later transpire to be one of the biggest mistakes of my life: I rang him, we dated for a short while then moved in together.

I don’t know what possessed me to agree to him living with me. I’d been dreaming about having my own place in Paris and here I was thwarting my own plans. On the night he was due to move in, I had second thoughts about this dumb decision. I was having a drink with a friend in a bar and I remember her telling me that it wasn’t too late to change my mind; he was meeting me there and I hadn’t given him the address, so I could just leave him in the lurch. I seriously contemplated it.

“To this day, I can’t stand the strong stench of cannabis as it evokes bad memories.”

In the end, it went full steam ahead. He invaded my immaculate space in Montmartre, bringing his mess, addiction to weed and childlike neediness with him. His drug habit meant that he couldn’t hold onto a job, so he was forever asking his mum for money, not to mention soaking my sheets with his foul-smelling sweat. Some nights, it was so bad that I thought he had wet himself in his sleep. To this day, I can’t stand the strong stench of cannabis as it evokes so many bad memories. It got worse: while working as a night receptionist, he’d fraudulently use clients’ credit card to buy computer equipment.

Actually, that wasn’t the worst of it. Jealousy consumed him, so much so that whenever I’d mention a male friend, he’d ask if I’d slept with him. His jealousy even extended to female friendships: he couldn’t understand why I’d want to meet them for dinner parties at theirs, drinks at a bar or brunch at the weekend. I’ve never been one for overly provocative clothing (ill-fitting tops and short skirts were my limits, but those items were all relegated to the back of the cupboard by the time I met him), but he’d get so angry when I refused to wear the loose, long-sleeved, high-neck tops he preferred that I eventually gave in. I wanted to see my friends and if I had to make some sartorial sacrifices to do so, then so be it.

There’s more: his sister squatting on my sofa, living her best uninvited guest life; his mates spending their days smoking in my lovely lounge; everyone emptying the fridge and never refilling it; me trekking across Paris to swim in public pools because I didn’t want to go home. I’d cry myself to sleep knowing that I didn’t deserve this and wondering how I was going to extricate myself from this mess.

“I was so angry, at him and at myself for allowing this situation to occur.”

The catalyst came in the form of my parents and sister, whose visit prompted me to temporarily kick him out while they stayed with me. I didn’t want them to know about him; there was no future and therefore no point in introducing him to my family. But it was obvious that I was on edge (and that I was living with someone despite my best efforts to hide the evidence), worried that he’d rock up and raise hell. Thankfully, he stayed away and I managed to pluck up the courage to end it after they left.

To say that he didn’t take it well is an understatement. A couple of days after we broke up, he let himself back into the flat while I was sleeping (trust me, I’ve self-flagellated enough since about not taking the keys off him immediately) and stole some of my belongings. I clearly was a much deeper sleeper in those days; must have been all the weed in the air. When I realised what had happened, I was so angry, at him and at myself for allowing this situation to occur.

I reported the incident to the police and didn’t hear from him in a while. A few months later, I bumped into him in the neighbourhood and he begged me to take him back (after telling me that he’d sold my stuff – cheers, mate). I finally felt free and there was no way I wanted anything that he had to offer. It took some time to rebuild my confidence after lengthy periods of uncomfortable self-analysis about my weaknesses. I purposefully remained single, determined to make better decisions, until my now-husband re-entered my life and helped me to heal thanks to his unconditional love, kindness and optimism.

Failure to have a baby

Some of my IVF drugs for one cycle

To quote Elizabeth, “sometimes the sadness I feel at not having children is acute.” At the time of writing, it has been one week today since we found out that our fourth IVF cycle was unsuccessful, so her words resonate with me even more than usual. Even in the grip of grief, I find it somewhat funny that I’m in this position. Why? Because I wasn’t someone who dreamed about becoming a mother when I was a girl; I just assumed that it’d happen, along with marriage.

I got lucky on the life partner front, so no complaints there. My husband and I met at university, where our friendship flourished before it floundered after graduation. We then found our way back to one another years later, falling in love in the process and started dating when I lived in Paris. But that’s a story for another day.

We got married in our late 20’s and waited to have our own place before thinking about having kids (we lived with his parents for two years). Years after we’d found and bought our flat, I still didn’t feel ready to fully “settle down”. Whenever Neil would raise the subject, I’d brush him off, the fear of losing my identity and independence growing stronger by the day. The constant cultural pressure to procreate, as if that were my only purpose in life, made me reject what was expected of me. I’ve always hated being told what to do and this was no different.

How to Fail
Neil and I on our wedding day

Except that it was because deep down, very deep down, I did want to start a family. However, it only dawned on me the day I found out that I was pregnant. After staring at the stick in utter disbelief, I was surprised to find myself feeling overjoyed. Elated. Euphoric. Excited. There was no sense of impending doom whatsoever. I visualised my stomach swelling, imagined being kicked by tiny feet, being at the mercy of uncontrollable cravings and proudly wearing the ‘Baby on Board’ badge on the Tube. I vividly recall my heightened sensitivity to cigarette smoke, my instant aversion to wine and regularly putting a protective hand over my stomach.

I’d taken the test on Christmas Day and by New Year’s Eve, I just knew that it was game over. In the first week of January 2016, a nurse confirmed my suspicion and I became one in four British women whose pregnancies end in miscarriage. I was a stranger to this statistic until that day.

I’ve since written extensively about our miscarriage and IVF experience at three different clinics on my blog (Me, Myself & IVF and Third Time Unlucky), as well as penning articles for HuffPost, Stylist and Metro and featuring on fertility podcasts and national radio (see my Press & Media page here). I went from hiding my pain, shame and feelings of failure to openly discussing them because I didn’t want anyone to suffer in silence like we did for years, particularly people from South Asian communities where infertility is still highly stigmatised. While I have zero control over whether an embryo will eventually implant in my uterus, I have the power to transform this negative experience into a positive one by supporting and educating others. As Elizabeth so eloquently explains, “A life of words typed on a screen that connect with people who read them. That is fulfilment. That is beauty. Ultimately, that’s what lasts.”

What do you consider your biggest failures to date and what lessons have you learned from them? Comment below or via social!

All words and photos are my own, unless otherwise stated, and therefore remain the trademark of


How to Fail Podcast
Blog post: My, Myself & I
Blog post: Third Time Unlucky
HuffPost: When You’re a Woman of Colour, Infertility Comes With Extra Stigma
Stylist: Things I Wish I’d Known about IVF
Metro: Hopeful Dads Going Through IVF Need Support, Too


How to Fail

1 Comment

  1. October 5, 2020 / 6:18 pm

    Thanks for writing such a brave heartfelt post, Seetal. Reading this, and I found myself really taken along with you on these tough experiences. All the way through, I was thinking of just how resilient you are in adversity, and in the case of all your endeavours around IVF and infertility, just how incredibly inspiring – although I know there are some really challenging days too. Thanks so much again for sharing these reflections, and wishing you all the best. x

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