Today I Feel Like a Failure

Written by Hollye Dexter

(This was originally my private journal entry today – but I decided to out myself on the chance that some of you, maybe many of you, have felt the same.)

Today I feel like a failure. There. I said it.

The past couple weeks have been the worst: chock full of disappointments, rejection, disagreements. My career is flailing. Three big workshops I was supposed to teach were cancelled. I’m getting paid peanuts to write boring research articles that no one will ever read. My tax returns are an embarrassment to all tax returns. My little ones are fighting constantly and I’ve tried everything I know to stop it, but Friday ended in them injuring each other, and me crumpling to a heap and sobbing. (For the record, I don’t cry very often, so this is kind of a big deal.) And then I got on my damn knees and prayed. And cried. And prayed some more.
I feel like a complete failure in my career, an even bigger failure as a parent, and a general failure as a human.
One of my friends was shocked that I could be having a bad day. “Your life looks pretty great from what I see on facebook.” And to that friend I said, everyone has a bright and shiny life on facebook, because we post only the highlights. We don’t post things like “My kids are at each others throats and I can’t find any work and I haven’t made one dime on my book.”  Another friend said CHEER UP! which is the most invalidating thing you can say to a person who is hurting. Even during trying times we all have much to be grateful for – I absolutely know this. But it’s a challenge to enjoy the lovely weather while your ship is sinking. I need to acknowledge the fact that my ship is sinking. I have to figure out how to fix it, or jump out and learn how to swim.
Over the weekend, bolstered by the kindness of friends and my husband, I pulled myself up by my proverbial bootstraps and by Monday I was ready to take on the week. And then wham-o. At 8am, major rejection from an agent who had read my full manuscript. And it was a nice, thoughtful response. She loved my writing, said the part about us being trapped in the burning house had her on the edge of her seat and near tears. She liked the drama and the dark parts. But some of the other parts she found “banal”. I’m sorry, she said, I’m sure that time in your life didn’t feel banal to you.
It’s been running through my head ever since. It’s not just my book she’s talking about. It’s my LIFE.
Here’s how Websters Dictionary defines it.
Banal: So lacking in originality as to be obvious and boring.
Synonyms: trite – commonplace – hackneyed – trivial – platitudinous
I know, I know…She’s just one person. That’s just one opinion. J.D. Salinger got rejection letters, too. And it shouldn’t bother me but it does. You put years into a book, you put your heart out there, completely vulnerable, and it’s hard. I had pain in my stomach all day yesterday, as if I’d actually been kicked in the gut. 
But listen – this blog is not a pity party. I’m not posting it so everyone will say “You’re not a failure!” This is a moment in my life – a shitty moment – but a moment nonetheless. I don’t intend to stay stuck here, but I’m giving myself a minute to grieve over dreams not panning out, the powerlessness I feel, my inability to find work, getting older, the fear that I’ll never amount to anything, the worry over my kids. That’s all real stuff. I can’t change it if I don’t acknowledge it.
I also know that this feeling is just part of being human. Everyone has failed. Everyone has felt terrible about themselves at some point. It’s what you do after you’ve failed that makes or breaks you. I could throw in the towel. I’ve done that before. Or I could decide not to give up, like these people did.
Here is what author Kathryn Stockett has to say about rejection: 
 “I received 60 rejections for The Help. But letter number 61 was the one that accepted me. After my five years of writing and three and a half years of rejection, an agent named Susan Ramer took pity on me. What if I had given up at 15? Or 40? Or even 60? The point is, I can’t tell you how to succeed. But I can tell you how not to: Give in to the shame of being rejected and put your manuscript—or painting, song, voice, dance moves, [insert passion here]—in the coffin that is your bedside drawer and close it for good. I guarantee you that it won’t take you anywhere.”
So I’ll keep sending my book out until I find the agent/publisher/editor who gets it because I know there are people who will find hope in my book- and hope is a much needed commodity in this world. And I’ll write these cheap research articles until something better comes along. And I’ll try each day to be the best parent I can be even when it doesn’t seem to be working.
Susan Sarandon said that every time she faces rejection, she celebrates because she knows she is being moved closer to what is right for her. I don’t know if I’m that evolved, but hell, I like champagne.

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  1. Liz Kinnon

    I so appreciate your honesty and courage to put it out there.

    It's true that your FB posts are so inspiring (re: your family, beautiful writing, activism, etc.) that I sometimes feel like I need to kick myself into a higher gear! (I'm trying, I'm trying! :-)) The word "failure" would never occur to me in the realm of Hollye. You embrace life and GO!

    So … we (I mean the collective "we") do the best we can. You do a hell of a lot for so many: family, friends, strangers, and a little guy named Stitch! You are fantastic.

    Kids will fight. People will reject. Shit happens and it sucks. It's normal for we humans to take it to heart. 'Tis the season. Fortunately, there are people like you in the world to remind us that there are terrific people out there. Hang in there.

  2. Anonymous

    You've just described my life right now. Feeling like if I actually express the shame of struggle on Facebook, I'll just get a bunch of well meaning but overly general "No, that's not true, you're fabulous," or "You should be grateful" comments that frankly just depress me more for some reason. Of COURSE I'm grateful!! That's what keeps me getting up every day! *sigh*
    I guess in being artists, we have to share the highs and lows…even when the lows last a solid year. So maybe we ARE allowed to share them..once. As you very beautifully just did. Thanks, Hollye!

  3. Hollye Dexter

    Janelle- you and I are facing a really difficult time in our singing careers. We should talk!

    L.A. is a hard place to be sometimes.

    Troy was saying that's what music really is – it's a melody, or a voice that says "I know how you feel and you're not alone." The blues are an excellent example of that. So yeah, you're allowed to be down.


  4. Hollye Dexter

    I'm hanging in there.. I guess I just wanted to say that life isn't always so shiny and positive. I have my down days, and I lose my footing, and I feel powerless. And than I get my butt back in the saddle.

    Thank you for always being so supportive and THANK you for being one of our warriors and spreading the word with Moms Demand Action.

  5. Georgie

    Geez Hollye, with all that 'stuff' going on in your life, of course you'd be down and frustrated. As Frank sang…..'That's Life'……I love that song!!!! Kinda says it all. It is good you have somewhat of a release in the form of your journal/blog. Just keep letting it all out……even though that may not always help. "The fear that you'll never amount to anything"……NAH, you're a 'giver', Hollye….and that amounts to more than you know!! I don't have much to offer except love and hugs, but know that sometimes, love and hugs can go a long way! Keep on truckin' baby!! ♥

  6. Hollye Dexter

    Well Georgie, I know you have had more than your share of struggles and you persevered…and I will too. And what's going on with me is just money worries and typical sibling rivalry with the kids – I know it's not that bad. I'm just admitting that some days I feel like this- more days than I admit.

    That's life! And I will keep on truckin'!


  7. Georgie

    Oh I can relate. I hardly ever share my woes with Facebook anymore, except on rare occasion. I had a FB friend recently tell me how shocked she was that I was harboring some sadness about my life, as I was talking to her in a private message. "You're always posting such happy stuff and positive comments", she stated. Well, there ya go. We're all entitled to the 'tough' days too. If you need anything from this end of the world, I'm here…..oxoxoxo

  8. Laura Davis

    Hollye, I just love how you took your horrible, no good, awful, screwed up, pull the covers over my head day and turned it into a post that inspired me, modeled honesty and humanity, and made me love you even more (if that's possible). Reading all these responses, I have to ask, Why bother with Facebook?

    I wouldn't be surprised if you get more responses to this post than any other. We all know EXACTLY where you are from direct personal experience.

  9. Hollye Dexter

    Laura, I can hardly imagine you having one of these days because you provide a steady, shining example for so many of what is possible… but I know, logically, that these crap days happen to everyone.

    Thank you, always, for your support.

    And no- I love YOU more. : )

  10. Hollye Dexter

    That means a lot to me Georgie. You have had tremendous emotional courage over the past couple years. You made it through girl! But yeah, you're still entitled to your sad days. Nobody should have to be that damned chipper all the time! xo

  11. Unknown

    Hollye, You will always be a star in my eyes. You are a shining star as a person. Isn't that what is important? You have a heart of gold and I am lucky to have you as a friend.

  12. aaron

    Hey Hollye,
    There was a line from your most recent blog that jumped out at me:
    "the fear that I’ll never amount to anything"
    Putting aside the pain you are feeling now, which I think every human has experienced, who you are right now, all the good things you have done in your life, all the bad things, all the mistakes you've made, all your triumphs no matter how small, these are the things you have amounted to. Try to live in the moment, remember the power of now and reward yourself in thinking about what you amount to NOW. Love you.

  13. Hollye Dexter

    Rob- I am so glad our friendship has persevered all these years, and THANK YOU for your kindness- always. And I certainly know you've had these days too. And look- we're still here, dammit!

  14. Hollye Dexter

    Thank you Aaron. Truly. That really means a lot to me. xox love you too.


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