Learning From Failure and Making Mistakes


I’ve been meaning to write this blog post for a while now, but I knew it would be a hard one to write. It takes a lot to admit that you have made a mistake, and that a decision you made hasn't worked out in the way you hoped. Especially when you fear what people will think of you, and how they may judge you for the choices you then make to rectify the situation.

The decision I made doesn’t relate to career change whatsoever, but, as is the case with many things in life, the same principles and learning takeaways do seem to apply. As a result, I thought it might be interesting (and therapeutic for me) to write about the experience, and see what I could share that might help others open up their thinking around the way they perceive failure and making mistakes - a common fear for those contemplating a career change.

So, here goes…

In the summer of 2021, I put the wheels in motion to adopt a beautiful dog called Chubby (he was a chunky puppy apparently!) from North Cyprus. I remember at the time, a fair few people told me that they didn’t think it was a great idea. “What about all the holidays you like to go on?”, “Dogs are a lot of hard work”, “Dogs restrict your freedom”, etc. My response was to get really defensive, try to prove them wrong, or just completely ignore them. I knew what I wanted, and I dug my heels in. I even had a slight go at friends for not being more supportive. It turns out, they may know me better than I know myself. So, Lesson 1: Listen to what others have to say, especially those that have relevant experience.

Before our new dog even arrived, there was a lot of emotional and financial investment from me. I had to pay £600 towards his foster care and flight prep whilst he was still in North Cyprus. From that point on, I felt I had already committed - to the dog charity, to my son who I’d told we were getting a dog, and financially. Now, in hindsight, I should have conducted way more research on dog breeds, dog ownership, and what it really involves, before making that financial commitment. Lesson 2: Take your time to do relevant research, and don’t feel rushed to make a decision before you feel fully informed. Also, it’s absolutely fine to change your mind. Just because you said or committed to one thing, doesn’t mean you have to stick with it. You’re not letting anyone ‘down’ just because you’ve changed your mind. People are resourceful and capable enough of resolving the consequences of you changing your mind.

I’m also acutely aware that I liked this particular dog’s ‘story’. Because he was a rescued street dog, with a sad background (his mother was poisoned when he was a puppy so he needed taking in), I felt like I was doing a ‘good thing’, and liked the idea of telling other people this story. Lesson 3: Don’t make decisions based on what it sounds like to other people. You’re the one that has to live that life. It’s not enough for it to sound good to other people; it needs to work for you, too. Also, choices you make don’t completely define who you are. They don’t represent what you’re all about. Life (and the decisions we make) is much more nuanced than that.

I also remember my husband saying that the dog would be solely by responsibility. If I was onboard with that, he’d support my decision to adopt one. I didn’t really think this would be the actual case. I thought, in time, he’d be able to help look after the dog, take it out on runs with him, etc. This was not the case, for a variety of reasons. Lesson 4: Listen to what people tell you. Don’t assume you can change people’s priorities when the time comes. Everyone needs to be on the same page when it comes to making life decisions that affect the whole family unit.

For a variety of reasons, it would be another six months before Chubby would arrive in the UK. It felt a very long time to wait, especially for my 6 year old son, who was so excited to meet his new furry friend. We got the house ready, bought endless dog paraphernalia, and I started an Instagram page to document his journey (yes, I wanted to be one of those dog owners!). As you can probably tell, I was highly invested in this decision.

Chubby settled in so well to start with. It was like he’d always lived in our house. He seemed very relaxed and loving. I loved cuddling up to him on the sofa, and our walks were lovely (when it was raining!). It all started to go a bit downhill when the weather warmed up in the Spring. He started to dig up our grass, flower beds, and potted plants, completely destroyed the garden. Normal dog behaviour apparently. He then started digging up parts of our carpet. Again, fairly normal for a young dog. But he just became more and more unsettled. It turned out he was not OK around cats, which we were told he was. He was being kept separate from our cat so we could slowly introduce them, but it became apparent from their unplanned encounters, that a dog with a mix of pointer, spaniel, and setter genes, was going to be very hard wired to chase and kills cats - much like the squirrels and pigeons he loved chasing.

When the seasons changed again, and he experienced snow for the first time, as well as a particularly busy and stressful birthday weekend, Chubby started chasing shadows in the house, and completely ripped up our living room carpet. He also started digging and ripping up his bed, our doormat, the sofas, his blankets. It was like he was hunting bugs, but there was nothing there. Eventually, we were told by our vet that he’d developed the canine version of OCD - Canine Compulsive Disorder - and was referred to a Dog Behaviourist. It all became rather distressing and overwhelming, especially when it became apparent that CCD happens when dogs are stressed, anxious, and mentally under stimulated. I was already walking Chubby around 2 hours a day, and it was suggested this be increased to 3+. I bought him even more mental agility dog games, treat toys, etc - anything to keep him entertained. I completed a dog training course to try and give him alternative behaviours to concentrate on. Nothing seemed to help. At this point, he was now confined to our small kitchen on account of the cat and the carpet/sofa issue. It all started to feel a bit unmanageable. I was so stressed, and getting more and more physically and mentally tired. I had a constant headache that I just couldn't shift. Lesson 5: Listen to your body. It usually knows if there's a problem.

All this pressure started to really strain my relationship with my son and my husband. I started resenting my husband for not helping more. Things got so difficult that it got to a point where we started to discuss getting a divorce. In our first couples therapy session, it became vividly apparent that the dog was a big source of the problem. It was putting too much strain on an already busy and stretched family unit. Yet, my thinking was so clouded at the time that I even remember thinking that I needed to stick by my decision to adopt a dog from abroad more so than the life long commitment I’d made to my husband (and son). I felt confused and utterly torn.

The truth is that my thinking at this point was heavily rooted in the fear of what people would think of me if I re-homed or surrendered my dog - which is ironic, considering I wrote about this exact topic not that long ago. I felt great shame for even considering the idea of handing him over to a shelter. I didn’t want to upset my son, who loves Chubby so much. I am a huge animal lover, an identity that seemed entirely contradictory to what I was considering. I couldn’t bear the thought of him stuck in a shelter, perhaps for years to come, but, at the same time, I couldn’t bear the thought of life continuing as it was…for the dog, me, or my marriage. I felt like I’d made a huge mistake adopting Chubby, and I blamed myself for making such a bad and ill-informed decision. I felt guilty. I felt I couldn’t go back on the commitment I’d made, largely down to the vile trolling on social media I came across directed at those that re-home their dogs. These hateful comments made me feel that what I was considering was the worst thing in the world. It felt like I would be judged and hated, and simply branded as cruel. Lesson 6: Social Media is not helpful when you feel wobbly and bad about something already.

I struggled with the decision for a further three months. I cried a lot. I didn’t know what to do. A lot of friends said to me that it was OK to change my mind, accept it wasn’t working out, and that it would be kinder for Chubby to find a home better suited to his needs. I still couldn’t face the potential judgement from people I semi-knew, so I asked the charity we got him through to help with potentially re-homing him. All they could find was a place in a small shelter up in Sheffield. I looked the place up on online and it made me so sad to think of Chubby there. Having rung round a few local shelters, the consensus was that shelters were overflowing, and very few were being re-homed, not even the ones without issues. I just couldn’t stomach the idea of dropping him off there with no certainty that he’d be re-homed anytime soon. I therefore felt I only had one last shot to find him a decent alternative, and that meant me putting myself out there, facing potential judgement, and asking those I knew if they were aware of anyone looking for a second dog (as I now knew Chubby needed company to keep him busy). I asked various dog trainers I’d worked with, the dog groomer, and, finally, the dog boarder we’d used over the year we had him.

I was absolutely delighted when our dog boarder jumped at the chance of adopting him! Chubby loves her, he’d be surrounded by many dogs all day, go on two long pack walks a day, and be able to sleep in her bed if he wanted to, as they don’t have cats. She wouldn’t care if he dug up the garden, because everything was already astro-turfed, and she didn’t have carpets on account of the dog boarding business. And, as it happened, they were looking to get a second dog.

It felt almost too perfect to be true.

The biggest lesson came from this last moment. I kicked myself for suffering all that time because I was too scared of telling people how I was feeling, and asking for help. I learnt that most people are incredibly kind, supportive, want what’s best for you, aren’t as judgemental as you think, and, usually, there is a solution out there for the problem you’re facing. In the end, you have to do what’s right for you, and, most of the time, things fall into place around that.

My son and I have seen Chubby since he was re-homed, and he’s just so bloody happy! He seemed happy to see us, greeting us with lots of kisses and tail wags. It still hurts my heart when I think of him - I love him so much, and feel sad it didn’t work out how I hoped. I still feel ashamed when I tell people we don’t have him anymore, but I’m glad that I can say he’s now living his best life somewhere even better. In the end, it felt crueler to try and keep him; hanging on to him just to save me from judgement, and to stay loyal to my original decision…which is no basis for effective decision making.

So, the moral(s) of the story? Ask for help. Remember that people don’t judge as much as you think. It’s OK to change your mind. Nothing is black and white. You and your worth are not defined by your decisions. Things generally work out for the best. The right decisions are some of hardest you’ll ever make. Even if it breaks your heart, accept that something isn’t working out how you’d hoped. At that point, lean into the situation and find the best solution that you can. When life throws you lemons, make the yummiest lemonade that you can!

Overall, I’m super proud that I was able to overcome my fears, and do what was best for everyone involved. In the end, it worked out for the best - Chubby is happier in his new home, my husband and I are no longer considering a divorce, and our cat is loving life again!

Alice Stapleton

About Alice

Alice coaches those who want to change career but don’t know what they want to do instead. She offers Career Coaching designed to help graduates, early to mid-level career-changers, and parents returning to work gain a clear vision of what career is right for them, and how to achieve it. She is also an accredited Coach Supervisor, and host of The Career Change Diaries podcast.