Christmas and the fear of failing

How ‘festive cheer’ brainwashing triggers a feeling of failure.

What if you fall short of perfection on ‘special days’ like Christmas? Are you a failure?

The myth of our potential can make of our lives a perpetual falling-short… Adam Phillips

Thought provoking words from Adam Phillips — and I will adapt it to say:

The myth of the perfect special day can make you feel a sense of perpetual falling-short.

What if you are feeling like a failure because of the absense of something you can’t achieve and don’t really want? Sounds a bit daft put like that.

Take Christmas or Thanksgiving or a similar ‘big deal’ tradition-soaked day … and consider these ingredients:

  • Expectations
  • Associations
  • Comparison

And your feelings such as:

  • Disappointment
  • Alienation
  • Envy

Do I sound like an old misery?

Possibly — but the intention is to replace perceived ‘perfection failure’ experiences with reality-infused perfectly fine experiences.

But first — what’s the connection between festive days and feelings of failure.

The failure feeling trigger of festive days.

The special day is here!

You must hop aboard the magic train to happy-land and at all costs stifle that strange sensation of sadness. Stop letting a frankly daft feeling of frustration spoil the day.

Or should you step back and figure out what’s going on before boarding that sparkly train?

What if festive day ‘happy-land’ is another perfection myth and the sad feeling is a sign that you need to stop and reconsider the situation. What if your reflection results in you feeling calm and grounded in ‘reality-land’?

Would that be so bad?

As you reflect — ask yourself these 3 questions:

  1. Am I making assumptions about my family want from this special day?
  2. Am I hanging on to childhood traditions out of habit?
  3. Am I feeling envy for ‘perfect fleeting moments’ shared on social media?

Perfect Christmas Fear of Failure

Having pressed pause and put your heightened emotions through your ‘curiosity filter’ — you might see the situation with more clarity.

Curiosity, it turns out, can be a remarkable powerful thing. Tim Harford

Allow your curiosity to consider this:

> You are being brainwashed by a myth — and whilst you rationally know this to be the case, your emotions are firing and sending you into a fight and flight frenzy.

> You are falling into the ‘should trap’ and being controlled by the your fears, illusions and baggage!

> You feel that something about your ‘special day’ is ‘wrong’ — and worse than this you feel you are ‘wrong’.

> That ‘wrong’ feeling is likely to lie in the gap between fantasy and reality — the gap between myths fed by illusions of what ‘should be’ and obtainable reality revealed by your reflection.

Take, again, some people’s description of their meaningless lives as “wrong.” This sense of wrongness may have to do with the discrepancy between their expectations and reality; life is taken to be wrong because it does not include a sufficient number of aspects of sufficient value. It is “wrong” because it is not the way it “should” be. Iddo Landau

Let’s make this real by considering a real day. I will have to base this on Christmas day — it is my lived experience. I hope you can find similarities with other ‘special days’.

Let’s explore the 3 ingredients I referred to at the top of this article.

Christmas and the trap of expectation:

Most of us recall a time when we believed in the magic of Christmas. We had an advent calendar to feed our anticipation of that special visit. We saw the lights go up in town and planned a carol singing adventure. We chose Christmas cards and posted them. We wondered where presents were being hid and we smelt mincemeat and marzipan. It was getting very close.

Fast forward and we are bombarded with ‘are you ready for Christmas?’ and ‘what are you doing for Christmas’. We see social media posts of perfect planning and preparation for the big day. We are told by adverts that we must buy lots of food —indulgence is expected and shamelessly anticipated.

Christmas and the trap of association:

Christmas means snow and tinsel and all things twinkly. It means candles and carols, Cliff Richard and corny number one hits.

From a purely ‘commercialised’ perspective, we associate Christmas with concepts such as:

  • Family — in excess
  • Giving and receiving — in excess
  • ‘Happiness’ — in excess.

Even against our better judgement or individual instincts — we feel like a ‘failure’ if we don’t honour these associations!

Christmas and the trap of comparison:

Christmas brings forth a flurry of shiny ‘perfect family’ photos on social media, in the TV ads and all over the disney-esque films.

Beautiful homes and faces and happy families perfection.

All is well, not an argument in sight.

But hang on —

You don’t have a funny rotund uncle, a cuddly grey haired granny, a curly haired cockapoo and a beautiful children who never squabble.

You don’t have chiselled cheekbones that frame a perfect nose that lies above luscious lips.

You wouldn’t enjoy a Christmas morning walk with your parents/in-laws/sibling – because, in reality, you would be having a flaming row about Brexit.

You haven’t got multi-coloured lights adorning your house — because you decided to do your bit to save the planet.

That was so ‘un-Christmassy’ of you — you miserable scrooge!

Get the gist?

You feel disappointment, alienation and envy.

The ‘perfect day’ as defined by tradition and marketing is either literally impossible for anyone to achieve or impossible for you to achieve. We have constraints.

You might live in a small flat, you might not have children, you might have just lost someone, you might be financially struggling, you might be allergic to log fires!

But the pressure has mounted and you feel disappointed for yourself and worse still — you feel you have let others down.

You feel like everyone else is doing it right — and you are a failure. What on earth is wrong with you? You are like an alien looking on at something you don’t understand but know you should desire.

You want to be like them, feel like them, be loved like them.


Fail to do the forensics on this and you will fail to spot the ‘failure feeling’ trap!

Understand that this ‘festive perfect’ notion is a trap.

The illusion of reality

You don’t have to fall into the trap. It’s visible in advance if you choose to look. You alone chose to walk into it or around it.

There are traps scattered around every day of the year.

Create the habit of spotting the trap and then walking around it with conscious curiosity.

Curiosity about society, history and the power of myths.

Curiosity about your responses to the way others choose to spend their ‘special day’.

What if you make different choices ? What makes one story right and the other wrong?

And if you make a different choice — don’t be ‘snooty’ about the people making their choice.

You don’t want to overeat, trash the planet and risk family arguments. But then — you did for years — it’s just a different phase for you now.

That pull is a strong one — the force is strong… it takes a bit of conscious effort to resist it.

Keep clocking the symptoms.

You feel as if you are failing if you do not post photos of huge feasts with jovial family against a backdrop of log fires and perfectly wrapped piles of presents.

As a mother of an adult child you feel as if you are failing if you don’t place a stocking at the foot of his bed or decorate the house with magical fairy dust.

Hang on — the child is 30 years old and wants nothing more than to enjoy a few days of work and relax after the mad round of pre-Christmas parties with mates.

And yet…

Your role is to maintain the traditions, to provide merriment and magic… surely…

You must please people.

If you don’t — you fail.

All other adult children are with their perfect big family — there on Instagram hugging each other against the backdrop of the best ever real Christmas tree decorated with hand-made magic.


hang on…

you don’t have a large family and you are allergic to pine needles.

And you know that, in reality, joy can be experienced any day of the year — most often spontaneously!

How to avoid falling into the trap and feeling a failure.

Consider the daft stuff us humans do for a start –

  • Envying something that you don’t want.
  • Feeling bad for not providing something that nobody wants!
  • Worrying that you are not meaningful enough.

Think about that for a moment.

Breathe and reset.

Instead of being brainwashed by tradition and myth-perpetuating media messages —

create a new way.

※ A realistic way.

※ A guilt-free way.

※ A ‘curiosity’ rather than ‘should’ fueled way.

You never know — it could be the start of a much welcomed future tradition!

Your only ‘failure’ is allowing the myth of perfection to lure you into the ‘should trap’ and cause you to abandon your ability to be original.

‘Special days’ can be days that organically unfold beautifully — but they can also feel like a fight for survival. Ask yourself why that ‘fight’ is taking place . Are you in a battle with a ‘myth’.

Reflect and reset.

As Adam Grant recommends — schedule “a weekly time for rethinking and unlearning.”

After all, hopefully, you have another 364 days that might turn out to be unexpected, very real, simply special days.