I think I have a new girl crush. Elizabeth Day is a journalist and author and runs a podcast called How To Fail. I-tunes link I’ve binge listened to it over the last few weeks. I was a little wary at first of the cut-glass Oxford accent, but was quickly won over – it’s a genius idea and Day has a canny way of delivering interviews that keep resonating long after you’ve heard them.
The premise is simple. As Day says “This is a podcast about learning from our mistakes. Understanding that why we fail ultimately makes us stronger, because learning how to fail in life actually means learning how to succeed better.”
Each week Days puts a writer, journalist, politician, comedian and most recently even a Buddhist monk in the hot seat.
It’s a feast for the ears.
My favourite interview is with Tara Westover. Author of the best-selling book Educated, Westover was born a Mormon and grew up working on her father’s junkyard. She didn’t go to school, had no access to health care (because her parents didn’t believe in it) and has no record of when she was born. In her teens she broke free and fought to secure places at Cambridge and then at Harvard. Westover talks powerfully about her shame at her lack of education and the strong beliefs she absorbed from the culture she grew up in. She describes her gratitude when a fellow student challenged her homophobic beliefs, rather than attacking her. “I dislike the idea of education becoming another privilege that people have … I’ve had two lives and I was made a different person by those two lives, so it’s very difficult for me to accept any kind of moralising that dismisses people for small-minded or prejudiced ideas.”
Best-selling author Jessie Burton talks about her failure to grapple with success after a decade spent as a jobbing PA, David Baddiel talks about his obsession with telling the truth and mental health campaigner Johnny Benjamin talks about his brush with death on Waterloo Bridge.
And then there’s Day herself. At the end of Season One, Day turns the tables on herself and asks her friend Dolly Alderton to interview her. It’s a fascinating listen. My favourite comment and I paraphrase …
I think we run the risk of marginalising failure because we live in an age of constant curation when we’re obsessed with showing our “best selves”. Actually, you need the negativity and you need the sadness to understand what life truly is and to appreciate the things that do go well. I just don’t see them as distinct. I see it all as one connected package. A forest. They are all part of what’s bought me here … And I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the accumulation of all the experiences and all the failures and the successes.
And her ode to friendship …
The last few years of my life have been eventful and the one incredible consistent has been my friends. Actually the massive revelation of everything that I have been through is that that my real friends loved me more for being honest about what was going wrong. I was so worried about that. About admitting the stuff that I’d done or the way that I’d acted or my failures and actually it’s just deepened the love that I have with my friends. They show me an enormous amount of compassion and when I am feeling insecure they make me feel so much better.
Hoorah to that. And to all my friends who do the same. You rock. And I hope I’m half as good a friend back.