9. December 2022

A list of my life failures

Pair of broken eyeglasses symbolising life failures

Today feels like a good day to publicly bathe in my own life failures, mishaps and misadventures.


It’s great when you’re successful. It’s wonderful when a project goes exactly to plan, the fruits of your labour pay off in a big way and everyone pats you on the back. Look at all the lovely letters after your name and prestigious jobs you can list on LinkedIn for everyone to marvel at and “like”! Credit where it’s due, not hiding your light behind a bushel and all that. Kudos! Bully for you!

That’s all well and good — but life failures are feeling a little left out of the picture here. It is a necessary part of life too, right? Perhaps it’s my reaction to all those over-manicured, fakey social media feeds of smiley, perma-glowing people #livingtheirbestlives. But today I feel the need to publicise and celebrate my own series of crash-and-burns. In no particular order…

Let’s start with the biggest of my life failures: my entire first career. While I don’t regret any of it as such, the law was never going to work out for me. I just have not got the temperament for the dry, bureaucratic nature of the practice of it and spent more than a decade being frustrated, deeply unhappy and — at times — depressed.

The kindest way of describing my performance in the jobs I held is “scaling the heights of mediocrity”. If I’m being a tad more honest, the word “inadequate” springs to mind. And I could never summon any drive to improve.

The biggest failure-within-the-failure (this chapter in my life was a veritable Matryoshka nesting doll set of fails) was my attempt to become an Austrian bureaucrat with a job at a national authority. What seemed at the time like the ultimate proof of successful integration here turned out to be the terminal act in the Greek tragedy of my legal career.

The closing scene: finally admitting that I am crap at this and find the whole thing incredibly tiresome…so I’m not doing it anymore! And, lo and behold – an unhappy lawyer became a happy legal translator.

Seven and a half years after my exit stage right, the only thing I (occasionally) miss about the practice of law is the money.

Languages have always been my bag. In fact, as a professional legal translator (German to English), and a passionate reader and writer, they are my life. I also managed to teach myself French over about 5 years. I’m not great at French, but I can hold a conversation which (more or less) makes sense and that natives can understand. That means you can do it.

Learning German and French was certainly a challenge. But it was doable. All of which lulled me into a false sense of confidence: if I can learn these languages, that means I can learn any language! I’d been giving Slavic languages a wide berth since a failed attempt at learning Polish in 2005. Yet a growing fascination with the Czech Republic and frequent visits to that country meant I got to thinking it was a good idea to try Czech.

It’s not going well. I can just about order a beer and the bill in a café…but most of the time, my attempts to communicate just result in people looking non-plussed and replying in German or English. Being well aware of how fiendishly difficult their language is, most Czechs are very sympathetic and even amused by the attempt…one time, I got an extra beer for the effort!

It’s just not going to happen. My list of life failures just got longer.

Oh, the PAIN. I think I struggled through the first two books in the trilogy but gave up before the end of the third. I am a seasoned, battle-hardened reader who has hacked through some tough literature in my time (err, Tolstoy? Dostoevsky?), but Tolkien defeated me.

I could not go on. I could not have cared less about the story or any part of this make-believe world. When another interminable round of elves singing started to make me feel unreasonably aggressive, I knew it was time to throw in the towel. The elves can sod off.

Homemaking is one of those things that women are supposed to be good at. I don’t care a jot about being talent-free in other areas where women are “supposed” to be naturals. Like being maternal, or cooking. And I don’t see that as a failure — it’s just the way I roll. Yet the inability to set up my living space in a way which goes beyond the merely functional does rather bother me.

I have friends who seem to have an in-built sense of which curtains, which paint, which sofa, which pictures…and which second-hand shops they need to to hit up at what moment on a Tuesday afternoon to get that all important quirky ornament to “make it all come together”. They make homes that say: “Welcome! Come in! Feel cosy and at home and fully at your ease”. I create living spaces that contain everything that is reasonably necessary for living, where things have their place and which is acceptably clean. That is a very, very different thing.

Function over form!

My flats are utilitarian spaces rather than lovingly feathered nests. No amount of hours spent watching Good Bones or Fixer Upper, trying to absorb Joanna Gaines’ magic powers, will change that.

I am so very fortunate to have a partner who is perfectly fine with this functional state of affairs. A man with more conservative expectations would be bitterly disappointed and start eyeing up other ladies. Probably the ones who stand in the lighting section of IKEA, looking competent and like they have a Pinterest mood board. I’d like to whack them over the head with a curtain rail.


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