What Happens When You’re About to Fail

I had never felt so much pain in my life.

It started when I woke up in the plane. By the time I had exited the arrival gate and called an Uber, I was having trouble standing.

It was a throbbing pain from right in the middle of my body. I thought I was either having a stroke or a heart attack. I thought I was gonna die.

The poor Uber driver knew something was wrong the moment he saw me. He must have thought he was either gonna have his first male passenger give birth, or die in his car.

I was supposed to go home, but I asked him to send me to the hospital.


Is It Worth It?

I clutched to the metal bars on the sides of the hospital bed — my abdomen pulling in pain. My back arched high like a possessed creature every time the spasms came.

It was midnight, just an hour after I had landed. I had figured by then it wasn’t a heart attack or a stroke. The pain wasn’t coming from my chest — it was coming from my tummy. And I could still feel both sides of my body.

After an emergency examination, the doctor suggested it was an acute gastric attack. She gave me a combination of some weird white liquid to drink, tablets, a jab, and some wise words:

“You must be very stressed at work,” she said. “It’s probably a combination of that and the spicy curry you ate just now.”

Ah yes, work. The thing we kill ourselves for sometimes. Is it worth all that mental — and now physical — pain? But this wasn’t just any normal work week.

This was the week I was gonna fail.


“Tomorrow the Sun Will Rise Again”

Back in university years ago, Jack and I used to stay up late doing engineering assignments. Every once in a while we’d pull all-nighters and throw in some bullshit philosophies about life along the way. Of course it was bullshit — we were 18 years old; but thought we knew everything.

“What’s the worst that can happen?” used to be our default line for comforting each other. “Come what may — tomorrow the sun will still rise again.”

It was always reassuring. We were young and defiant; mavericks who would stare down whatever challenges life threw at us and come out the other end standing. We were also really bad time and resource managers. It was always basketball and computer games until the last minute, then relying on panic and cheesy motivational quotes to finish our work.

But somehow we made it through Uni.


Why Are You So Scared of Failing?

I haven’t failed enough in my life. Sometimes I think that’s why I run out of stories to tell. I don’t have dramatic stories where I was a real zero and rose back to become a hero. I’ve never been depressed or suicidal.

Or maybe I haven’t tried enough things to fail. For most of my life I’ve always stayed within my comfort zone — where I know I can do well. Maybe that’s a failure in itself: a failure to try.

I’m afraid of what people will think of me. Afraid of being scolded and humiliated. Afraid they’ll laugh at me and this house of cards of my self-esteem will come tumbling down.

I want to grow, but I’m scared of failing too.


Guy staring over edge of mountain
But there is no growth without fear


This Is the End

This was the week I was gonna fail. We didn’t have enough time and resources to pull off even one event perfectly, but had three in a row. It was gonna be hell.

The client was demanding for things we didn’t have control of. Plus with all my time and energy focused on work, I felt my personal life spinning out of control too.

It was all gonna go to shit and I was worried sick.

I was gonna be the guy that brought shame to everyone in the company. To myself too. I was already thinking of contingency plans. Would I have to resign to save face?


But It’s Always Worse in Your Mind

Then something happened.

God was kind to me and smiled on my path. My colleagues took over without complaint when I was in hospital. And they probably did a better job than I could have done.

And then I gave up. I gave up worrying about looking stupid, or pretending that I was bulletproof. I gave up thinking about what would happen. It was too much to bear, and I was too tired.

At the bottom of the well, I was no longer Batman fighting heroic battles. I was young, helpless Bruce Wayne who had fallen in. There was nothing left to do but call for Alfred; call for help. And pray.

Then slowly claw my way out of the darkness.

I recovered quicker than I expected. 12 hours from the most excruciating pain of my life, I was back on my feet in front of an audience. We pulled through that event with flying colors.


Even the Best Fall Down Sometimes

And then the week from hell passed. It looked crazy back then and I was worried as hell. But it looks stupid to me now.

The final event came and went. It wasn’t the best event in the world, but it didn’t suck either. Our difficult clients were okay.

Like how all teams do after an event, we patted each other on our backs and traded high-fives. As we posed for a group picture, we knowingly smiled at one another — relief in our eyes hiding the longsuffering pain in our hearts.

I couldn’t shake my mind from something I had written on Twitter a couple of days earlier. It just felt appropriate:

“Five years from now, we’ll look back and wonder why the hell we were so worried about something so small.”


– – –


I drove home that evening feeling a mix of gratitude and happiness. Ed Sheeran’s music came on as the sun was setting. It was perfect. I felt the rays warm me as I disappeared into the Friday evening.

As if the sun herself had something to tell me; reassuring me as she said goodbye for the day.

That she would rise again tomorrow.


– – –


Pic from Pexels and Unsplash.

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  • What an ordeal you have gone through. Sometimes life let’s us know what it really is.
    I recently had pain in the Urinary system and the reports showed quite a few things even the Doctors were only able to predict but couldn’t specifically tell what went wrong or what is wrong. The pain I had endure to get my tank empty was so excrutiating that I thought is the beginning of something nearing end. I am still under medication and thank God I do not get to experience those horrible moments that took the life out of me. It is the tenth month I am running jobless. Nothing worked for me. My past work experiences in the Middle East didnt quite help me in Malaysia. I have no income. Got an autistic son who just crossed three. Majority of my savings just vanished in just months, thanks to the skyscraping COL. My (Malaysian) wife got an employment couple of months ago and the family survives on it for the time being. We stay in our Mother-in-law house. How long can I survive this way. I was never a person of dependence and never wanted to trouble anyone for anything. Time proved it can change things.
    I am now in Sri Lanka the place I was born in. I looked at the market, job trends and business opportunities. At some point things just didnt fit me or ironically the other way around. My family members starting telling me to pray to God because I got myself detached from religion few years ago, although I am not an Atheist. Society started to look at me differently because I am with my mother in one place and my wife and son in a different soil. I am 42. I just could not admit to see all the hard work that I invested in my past employment disappear just because I do not hold a paper qualification. I am no more looking for employment. Instead I got myself enrolled in studying Electrical Engineering. I told my wife that this is going to be a value addition to my credentials and that she has to bear with me (without me). She understands what I am trying to make of it and she happily agreed and encouraged me to pursue studies.
    Every single needle I used in my life came from my pocket. There isnt a penny that I inherited from my parents and till to date I made sure my mother doesnt starve even if I became jobless.
    Sorry to have bored with my story. That’s how life is for me. Be happy with what you have and thank God for the blessings you have been given.
    I am a fan of your blog so keep posting Aaron.

    • Thank you so much for that wonderful story Kanan. You have amazing determination and grit. I am sure your family is very proud of you.

      Wishing you the very best!

  • Hi, Aaron. If there is a love icon for this article, I would have clicked on it already. 🙂

    I’ve been your silent reader for a while now. This is the first time that I posted a comment.

    Glad that you’ve recovered from that excruciating pain. I’ve had similar experience years ago, but it was because of food poisoning. But at the same time, I know what it’s like to fall sick because of stress and anxiety.

    Do take care of yourself because health is wealth. And keep those articles coming. 🙂

    • Thank you Nadia for being so kind and for commenting,

      Please take care of yourself too, and do let me know if there’s anything you’d like me to write about!

  • Beautifully crafted with loads of emotion. Congrats on the success of the event. 🙂 Like we don’t know already know, you will pull it off. In the past, I thought I failed too sometimes and became my worst critique. Now I call it experience and when I do catch myself sliding down again, I just allow myself to embrace it. Sometimes it really sucks. Other times it’s bearable. I suppose the term “everything gets better with time” holds true.

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