Image Image Image

I feel plagued by past failures. How can I overcome this?

  • Sharebar

Dear Mark,

Many years ago, 22 to be precise, I failed to get through the first year of a university course. This has plagued me ever since and especially now, as more and more people have degrees.

I feel so terribly stupid, inadequate, and abnormal. (Yes, abnormal, because failing is never discussed and you never find anyone else who is in the same boat. If you know of others who feel as I do, I would love to know.)

My parents always treat me as stupid and I know there are inspirational stories where the subject overcomes these things by 'rising to the top', but this has not been a reality for me. I have failed lots of courses and exams in my life and have never taken an exam in the past 22 years.

It makes me feel as if someone has reached inside my torso and pulled out some of my insides. I don't feel whole. I have other problems too, but this is the one that makes me feel the worst. I hope you can help me.

Thank you,


This question was submitted by 'Hazel'

mark tyrrell

Mark says...

Hello Hazel and thank you for writing in.

Of course in my profession I have met countless people who felt as you do, each feeling they were the only one. It's so easy to feel stupid, like a failure, and it's also easy to see failure and success not as relative terms but as absolutes.

You don't mention whether you feel you have failed exams in the past through anxiety disrupting your capacity to focus, whether you have found academic studies hard to learn, or both. I would like to have an example of how your parents treat you as though you were stupid and also to know what you are doing in life right now. Are you working or studying now, I wonder?

You haven't taken an exam in the last 22 years, but you have studied (if I read you right). So it may be that you have learned a great deal without having particularly been tested on it. The learning would still be there, nonetheless. A certificate is just an indication of a certain capacity to learn (sometimes in just a way that a mere machine could) a certain and often very specialized knowledge.

You are so much more than a memory machine. If we judge things narrowly, then it's easier to get hurt when reality washes up against expectation of how things 'should be'. I suggest you listen to the 'Stop Thinking You’re Stupid' download. There are so many different kinds of capacity within human beings. It's a shame to predicate everything on one narrow kind of learning.

You can do all kinds of things without being a carbon copy of millions of others who have learned to jump through the required hoops of life. And remember that to treat someone as stupid when they are not is a sign of stupidly in itself.

But stupidity is a relative term in itself. Einstein was stupid in some ways and on occasion.

Don't give up on yourself, but do work to find a good match between what you are like and what you do in life. You have a function that, when you find it, will enable you to both help the world and feel deeply fulfilled.

All best wishes,


watch icon Published by Mark Tyrrell - December 21st, 2014 in

Have you got any other ideas for our questioner? Let them know in comments below: