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Nicola Coughlan’s words on dealing with failure are seriously comforting

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Lauren Geall
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Nicola Coughlan

In a new interview, the Derry Girls and Bridgerton star Nicola Coughlan spoke openly about the rejection she faced during the early stages of her career – and reflected on how she dealt with feeling like a ‘failure’ during one of her setbacks. 

Nicola Coughlan has seen plenty of success over the last couple of years with her standout roles in Derry Girls and, most recently, Netflix’s Bridgerton. But things haven’t always been plain sailing for the former Stylist cover star

While the actor is well accustomed to the spotlight now, having used her position to speak out on important issues including body image, tabloid bullying and the fight for reproductive rights in Northern Ireland, in a recent interview with the Belfast Telegraph, she revealed that she’s faced a lot of rejection along the way.

“I think a lot of people think they would like to be an actor, but unless it really truly makes your heart happy, I would not do it,” Coughlan shared. “There is a lot of rejection, an awful lot. It’s tough.” 

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Reflecting on the obstacles she had to overcome in order to pursue her dreams, Coughlan explained how it felt to return to her hometown of Galway after moving to London for the first time – and how she struggled to find work in the midst of it all.

“The last ‘normal person’ job I had was I worked in an optician’s in Galway,” she said. “I moved back to Galway feeling like a completely failed actor. I was super-depressed and thinking ‘Okay, I’m never going to get out of this. Everything just sucks.”

She continued: “I couldn’t get a job anywhere, not even acting, because it just wasn’t happening. I couldn’t get a job at a coffee shop, a shoe shop, a clothes shop, nothing. I went to get an eye test and my optician was like ‘We need someone two days a week’. I was like, ‘Yes, I will do that job. Thank God’.” 

Nicola Coughlan
Nicola Coughlan says she has dealt with a lot of rejection as an actor – especially when she was starting out.

Adding that she “quite liked” the optician’s job, Coughlan went on to reflect on how she thought about returning to Galway at the time and what she’s learnt about it since – and her words are a powerful reminder of how easy it is to beat yourself up when you ‘fail’.

“We are so willing to see ourselves as failures when things go wrong. I’ve been a victim of that. I go ‘Well, I’ve screwed up. This is terrible’,” she shared.

“There is nothing wrong with regrouping. I moved to London and left multiple times, saying ‘This is not working out. I can’t afford this. I’ve failed’. That’s just a horrible way to treat yourself. I’m building myself from the ground up again.” 

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Although your first instinct when you feel like you’ve failed is often to beat yourself up about it, Coughlan is right – there’s nothing wrong with regrouping, and taking your disappointment out on yourself isn’t going to help.

Sure, it’s OK to be sad when things don’t go your way – but showing yourself a little bit of self-compassion isn’t going to hurt, either. 

Sometimes, as in Coughlan’s case, that ‘failure’ you’re worried about could just be a setback on the path to success.

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and work. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time.

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