Failing up

I have been resting from my writing more than usual. This is mainly because of the usual loss of faith in any of my abilities, whether creative, professional or maternal.

I never embarked on the more creative endeavour of journalism that I wanted when I was 24, because it was quite likely even when newspapers weren’t being killed by BuzzFeed that it would be a career characterised by my failure to be Giles Coren.

Instead, I took my father’s advice to “go into industry”, and have now spent 18 years working in a strange hybrid of online media and financial services. The former is significantly more stimulating than the latter, but since everyone else thinks so too, it pays badly, and is full of people who swagger about, talking about being the next big disruptor. I laugh, and talk about films instead.

Financial services is, unsurprisingly, solely about money, and the people talk about mortgages, cars and Rolex. I mostly laugh at that too, and talk about our very unflashy van, and climbing – which these days is more of a distant memory. I wouldn’t say I am setting the world of asset management alight with my insights into the management of middle office outsourcing. I don’t fail exactly, but it’s not quite the job of my childhood dreams.

Then there is motherhood, the most continuous expression of visceral failure in everyone’s life. Everyone’s mother did something wrong; didn’t make the right cakes at your 6th birthday party, or didn’t care enough about the school play. I don’t know what failures will be laid at my door, but I can guess that they will say, “you were never there, Mummy”. They will see only my absence, not the fact I went back to work to give their father time with them, or the tears I cry on the train each morning, thinking of them and missing their silly little games, and their tantrums, and the feel of their soft cheeks. My youngest is ten months old today, and I will not see her at all. I will have failed to fail at anything they can remember.

I will also fail at all the things that would be personal achievements. I will never write a book, never see the Himalayas, never climb 6c or V6 or TD, never be patient; but I will also never know what it means to live your life with no meaning or control.

In fact, I am one of the better-off people living in one of the richest countries on earth, with a loving husband, comfortable house and three children. A journalist could write about my Oxbridge degree, “career in the City”, happy home life and passion for climbing and ballet, and probably throw in some irritating comment about my slim figure.

And yet like every other person I like, I will never shake off the feeling of inadequacy, however subjective I know it is. Maybe it’s just called having perspective and humility, and maybe it is not really a bad thing. After all, we are all felled by the failure of our bodies eventually. In the meantime, I enjoy bumping along, hoping all the time for something more interesting and less stressful to happen, or just hoping to see my kids one day, and for them to forgive me. Maybe it’ll be Brexit, as it could quite easily put paid to my job and all of our peace and prosperity.

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