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How to Fail by Elizabeth Day

Images & Review by Hannah-Rose Yee

“That was the thing about my twenties: it was meant to be a decade of experimentation, but sometimes the experiments taught you nothing other than that you shouldn’t have done it in the first place. Yet all around me, everyone else seemed to be having a wild time experimenting with drink, drugs and sexual partners, and I felt I should be doing the same. There was a pressure to conform to the tidal wave of non-conformity.”

There was a pressure to conform to the tidal wave of non-conformity.

How to Fail, Elizabeth Day

Elizabeth Day is an award-winning journalist and novelist and, it must be said, an enormously successful person. And yet her most recent project is a podcast called How To Fail. It has been downloaded more than a million times and featured guests including Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Lily Allen and Dolly Alderton talking frankly and openly about the biggest fuck ups in their life thus far and what can be learned from them. The podcast is warm, funny and totally empathetic. It is, somewhat ironically, phenomenally successful.

That this book is now a manifesto-cum-memoir of sorts is no surprise. Though she is a fantastic interviewer and a natural at podcasting, Day is an even better writer. Each chapter in How To Fail, her recently released book based on the podcast, explores a different part of failure in her own life. There’s her failure at school and her failure at being what she thought her twenties should be and her failure at casual dating. There are little failures, like her failures at taking tests and her failures at tennis lessons. And then there are the big, heartbreaking failures, like Day’s struggle to conceive and the breakdown of her marriage.

There is a lot to be learned from this honest book, especially when it is at its most open and raw. For Day, failure isn’t just a way of learning and moving towards success, it’s also a necessary part of life. Not everything can be turned into a win, not everything will be OK. And understanding that is essential if you want to make anything of your time on this wild, wonderful earth.

For Day, failure isn’t just a way of learning and moving towards success, it’s also a necessary part of life. Not everything can be turned into a win, not everything will be OK. And understanding that is essential if you want to make anything of your time on this wild, wonderful earth.

The chapters in the book about relationships, marriage and IVF are the most emotional and are the most heartbreaking. But the section that every woman should read is the one on work. It’s here that Day really untangles why women can feel so undervalued in their jobs, and why it takes such a long time for them to rectify that.

Take, for example, the moment when Day learned that her request to move from full-time to a contract at the newspaper she had spent eight years working at had been denied. “It was a good lesson,” she writes. “It taught me that, whatever you might tell yourself, an employer is never going to feel sentimental about you.” That’s a lesson that many women take all too long to learn, myself included.

All these tiny little failures make up the stuff of life. We need them to help us move forward, to fuel us, to teach us. And to remind us of where we came from, too.


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