Podcast Picks: How To Fail With Elizabeth Day


Kirsten Murray praises the way Elizabeth Day's podcast helps to normalise failure and perseverance.

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By Kirsten Murray

In a world dominated by false perceptions of perfection, and the constant stream of highlighted success fed to us through social media, it can be easy to forget how natural and normal it is to fail. How To Fail With Elizabeth Day is all about embracing failure: “This is a podcast about learning from our mistakes and understanding why we fail, ultimately makes us stronger. Because learning how to fail in life actually means learning how to succeed better.”.

Two years after a difficult divorce, failed IVF attempts, and a sudden break up, journalist and author Elizabeth Day found herself reflecting on her life. At age 38, Day recalls that this was “not an age at which [she] had anticipated being single, childless and facing an uncertain personal future”.Yet out of these failures, Day came up with a genius podcast idea – interviewing celebrities, and, instead of discussing their successes, they would discuss their failures, looking at how they had learned from them throughout their lives and careers.

I started listening to How To Fail during lockdown 1.0; a time where we all felt trapped and were struggling with the lows of lockdown life. It somehow felt reassuring to hear from successful celebrities that we all have feelings of failure. The important thing is to recognise our failures and learn from them.

Day has interviewed a whole range of celebrities. From actor Jamie Dornan, TV personality Jamie Lang, author Bernadine Evaristo and feminist hero Gloria Steinman, meaning there is someone for everyone. I tend to just dip in and out depending on who I’m interested in. Most recently I listened to James Acaster, who gave an eloquent and insightful discussion of his experiences with mental health after he broke up with his girlfriend. To hear the comedian separate from his awkward and childish persona was refreshing and really highlighted that we all have personal battles.

Similarly, Normal People star Daisy Edgar-Jones expresses feeling lost in her late teens and the pressure of acting for the approval of others, whilst Scarlett Moffatt discusses how the bullying she experienced as a child only made her stronger – as her dad says “bullies are like sandpaper, the more they wear you down the more polished you become.”.

What I find the podcast reveals most aptly is that everyone measures success differently. We may place these celebrities on a pedestal – we think their lives must be perfect – but the podcast brilliantly demonstrates, cheesy though it is, that no one is perfect.

Growing up in this generation, I spent my entire school life being defined by a grade. I equated academic success with being ‘good enough’ –  to fail was to be inadequate. I then ‘failed’ on A-Level results day when I missed my grade requirements and went through clearing. That’s when my perceptions of failure changed.

Coming to York was 100 percent the best thing that could have happened to me, with my perceived failure resulting in a huge success. Failure isn’t something to be ashamed of and this is highlighted through Day’s podcast. You haven’t failed if you haven’t secured a job promotion by 30, or started a family by 35 – your life is just going in a different path. If this lockdown has taught us anything, it is that life is unplannable and this podcast helps to reiterate that. It reminds us that failure is inevitable and is often a good thing. It helps us grow, get to know ourselves in new ways and leads us to even better successes.

In light of the success of the podcast, Elizabeth Day has also published her memoir How To Fail: Everything I’ve Ever Learned From Things Going Wrong and Failosophy; a handbook for when things don’t work out the way you planned – a read I strongly recommend alongside the podcast.