How to Fail (2019) is an honest and revealing look at the abundant rewards that come from making it through the toughest of times. Author Elizabeth Day takes us through many of the formative events in her life that some could call failures, yet she is nonetheless grateful for. Many fear failure like the plague, but it is often unavoidable – and for good reason too, because if we didn’t fail, we wouldn’t learn the many important lessons that make us smarter and better at living life.
Primary school can be a challenging experience for a lot of kids, but if you were a young English child growing up in Northern Ireland during the eighties, it was probably extremely rough.
This was the case for the author, Elizabeth Day. Though Day was born in England, her family moved to Northern Ireland when her father took a job at a hospital near the town of Derry. Since this was during the Troubles, the English were seen as the “hated occupiers,” and Day’s accent was enough to make her fellow students dislike her.
Though her parents raised her to have a strong sense of individuality, at school, Day longed simply to fit in and to this end even tried to talk as little as possible. But given the circumstances, it was next to impossible for her to fit in, and the teasing got so bad that she succeeded in getting her parents to send her to a boarding school in England instead.
While failing to fit in was a terrible experience, it led Day to learn some beneficial skills. By keeping quiet, Day became an adept observer of human behavior, a skill that came in handy later in her career as a journalist and novelist.
Day has spoken to many successful people who grew up alienated or bullied at school, like American actress Christina Hendricks and Guyana-born political campaigner Gina Miller, both of whom learned how to be resilient and determined as a result.
Hendricks was so bullied in school that her classmates weren’t above spitting on her. But it caused her to respond in ways that may have actually helped her future career. For starters, she adopted a new persona, dressing in black and wearing Doc Martens boots as a form of armor against the bullies. She also found sanctuary in the school’s drama department, where she could take on even more personas and let loose her feelings through acting.
As for Miller, her boarding school tormentors went so far as to steal the bottle of her mother’s perfume that helped keep her from becoming too homesick. But instead of getting angry, Miller developed a resilience that took the form of determined goodwill, having learned that bullies are routinely disarmed by kindness. This lesson served her well later in life, providing her with the resilience needed to cope with the death threats she received after questioning the legality of Britain’s Brexit plan in court in 2016.