I Survived My 20s – Failure

(c) Desiree Shuey Photography

[Guest post by Allison Vesterfelt] -I only have one year left of my twenties. It’s been a crazy, wild, ride, and it’s going to be over really soon.

I have mixed feelings about that. 

Part of me is bummed to get old. You know wrinkles, slowed metabolism, an inability to operate basic electronic equipment, that sort of thing.

But part of me is excited to kiss my twenties goodbye and say hello to my thirties. People say the thirties are your best years and, let’s be honest, my twenties have been fun, but it hasn’t been all that pretty at times.

When I look back over the last almost-decade of my life the image that comes to mind is of a person who doesn’t know how to swim tossed over the side of a ship, into the ocean. Terrified of drowning, I had two options: sink or swim.

I picture my arms waving around like a couple of wet noodles and my head dipping under water each time the ocean swells the way it does. I hear myself inhaling water, choking, and screaming for someone to throw me a life vest.

Then I see all the other people back on the ship, elbows planted on the handrail, smiling. You’ll be fine, they seem to be saying — and I want to believe them…

But they’re the ones enjoying the comfort of dry ground!

My 20‘s were fun, but you couldn’t pay me enough money to do it over again…

The dating and the getting my heart broken, the figuring out what I wanted to do with my life, and how to actually make it happen. The constant worry about friends and money and where I was going to live.

The hope that I was “doing it right.” 

If you’re a 20-something, flailing around like I was, let me throw you a life jacket. It’s okay to experience failure.


It’s doesn’t solve all of your problems, but hopefully it helps you catch your breath. 

It’s okay to break up with a boyfriend. It doesn’t make you a failure. Even if he breaks up with you — even if he tells you he never loved you and never wants to speak to you again — it’s okay. His words, the failure of the relationship, they do not define you. You are not a failure.

It’s okay to get a D on a test, or a paper. In college and ten years from now (actually, probably even three years from now) no one will even know? At least not unless you tell them.

You can get fired from a job. It doesn’t mean that you’re a bad person, or even that you’re not a hard worker. It could mean that the job wasn’t a good fit for you, that you were going through a rough time and couldn’t bring your best work, or focus to the task. It could even mean that your boss was just out to get you.

Your failure does not define you. It informs you, if you’re willing to look at it.

When you get lost in the “I’m a failure” attitude, you feel like you’re drowning, like you’ll never learn to swim. You feel like you’re choking on salt water. The flailing is a natural survival instinct, but it keeps you from seeing that failure is your greatest opportunity.

Go ahead, I dare you to fail.

Failure is the only way we learn what works and doesn’t work, it’s the only way we grow up, become more mature. Without failure, we’re doomed to be the same person we’ve always been, with the same flaws and shortcomings–forever.

I had a friend who knew what it looked like to fail well. We were in high school and there was this staircase, right in the front entryway, where all 2000 students intersected on their way to class. One day, on the way to second period, every student’s worst nightmare happened to her.

Her heel slipped and she thump thump thumped right down to the bottom. We all drew in our breath, and waited…

A few seconds later she stood up, threw her hands above her head, did a little toe-touch for herself (like the Saturday Night Live cheerleader) and burst out laughing.

You know what? We laughed with her. 

You know what else?

She never fell down that staircase again.

Allison is a reader, writer and thinker who believes that becoming brave enough to live an tell the truth. She’s passionate about helping people to tell, hear and understand stories that inspire, uplift, encourage, and even convict by pointing to the truth of Jesus. She is the editor-in-chief of Prodigal Magazine and lives in West Palm Beach, Florida with her husband Darrell.


  • Shalom

    Where was this article when I had more years in my twenties (As of today, my bday, I only had 2 left)??? LOL

    As a 28 year-old, I have a more mature view of failure. I don’t fear it as much as I have feared it when I was younger. Back then, I was busy achieving perfection. Now, I realized how stupid it is to chase perfection for it never exists. There’s no such thing as a perfect friend, a perfect job, a perfect career, etc. “Perfect” is an illusion, a lie painted by our society that is increasingly getting more obsessed with it. The way I see it – failure is inevitable. If one doesn’t fail, how will he/she find out how to do it right?

    I no longer chase after perfection, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to give my best shot. All I know is that perfection only rests in God, our Creator and Saviour, and not anywhere else.

    Great article, Allison!

  • Leelee Writes

    I really needed this article today. I was struggling with my decision to step back from a potential relationship even though it is the only prospect I have had in months. I don’t know if it is the right choice or not, but I am sticking with it.

    • Ally Vesterfelt

      Leelee — thank you for sharing. Trust your gut on these things. Seriously. If you don’t feel settled about it, it probably isn’t right and it never helps to make a decision out of desperation!

      It won’t be your last chance for relationship. I promise you.

  • Katie

    “It’s okay to break up with a boyfriend.” Hello. Thank you. It’s okay to admit defeat and realize you’re in the world’s suckiest relationship and on the completely wrong path! (I’m passionate about this because I called off my own wedding a couple years ago) Better to accept failure and shift your life’s focus than just be stubborn and get STUCK.
    I really, really, really loved reading this.

    • Ally Vesterfelt

      Katie, yes, that is so true. I’m happy you discovered that truth before you walked down the wrong road, and paid the consequence for it for the rest of your life. Failure in the moment actually translates to life-long success. Awesome. Thank you for sharing your story.