Get Ready to Fail
Think back to the days of school. Elementary, Junior High, High School, or College, doesn’t matter. Anytime when you were being taught and tested. School is hard because it’s one of the few times in our lives in which we are willingly submitting to being judged. We go in with understanding, expecting, and in some cases hoping, that we will be evaluated.
It’s an especially harsh situation when you consider the possibility of a harsh or sanctioning judgment. More than anything we fear FAILURE. The dreaded red “F” branded like a scarlet mark of shame on the term paper of our life. In the world of profanity, Failure is thought by many to be worse than……Fruit, Fructose, Friendly’s, Friday…..or any other words that also start with F.
The fear of F can trigger lots of thoughts:
What if I don’t do well?
What if I don’t know as much as I thought I did?
What if they think less of me?
What if I let somebody down? I don’t know what I’d do if I disappointed my teacher/parent/self/spouse/kids/dog/that-guy-at-the-grocery-store-I-always-run-into-don’t-know-his-name-but-he’s-always-so-noce-he-kinda-looks-like-my-grandpa?
What if I’m not as smart as I thought I was?
It’s an interesting reaction, and I think it is a good example of our tendency to work from a specific situation to a general conclusion. This is like inductive reasoning, going from specific observations to general conclusions. Many internet writers have slaved away bravely to help point out that Sherlock Holmes, who claims to be the hero of the deductive process, actually uses inductive reasoning to reach his conclusions. Keep it up internet sleuths. Our deerstalkers are off to you, and not just because you also pointed out that Sherlock Holmes doesn’t really wear a deerstalker.
Unlike Sherlock Holmes, who is always correct about the chemical smudge on a sleeve revealing that the owner of said sleeve is a former Russian Cosmosnaut with a balloon fetish, we often arrive at an incorrect conclusion when it comes to our inductions about Failure. We conclude more often than not that a score of F should be interpreted as a Failure as a person. To put it in therapeutic terminology, we stop thinking that we Failed at the test (or project) and start thinking that we are a Failure. And we use that conclusion to fructose up our self-esteem.
Let me point out what I think Failure actually represents.
A test (or course, or project, etc)
In a certain school
On a certain day
In a certain subject
Within a certain subset of that subject
I didn’t fail at life. I didn’t fail at being smart. I didn’t fail at being a human person. I simply failed at something. And failing at something Fridaying happens in life. It isn’t something that is avoidable, not completely.
When we accept the label of Failure onto our own identity, we are giving far too much credit to the test, project, course, assignment, kangaroo boxing match, or whatever it was. And we are running a far greater risk.
When I was a student at Weber State University, I failed a course. It was a Criminal Justice course I took online during one of the busiest semesters of my life. I was overburdened and failing to do things in their proper order. Somehow I kidded myself that all would be well in the course, as long as I didn’t look at it too closely. This has always been a bad strategy, one that I have tried with my bank account as well.
At semester’s end I logged into my student account, possibly for the first time, to view my grades. There it was all harsh and ugly, like a pool of blood in a snowy field:
Come one people, why is it always red? It’s on a computer screen, you could make it look like whatever.
This was a blow to my identity. I have always been a good student, and receiving that grade made me feel somehow lesser. But it was a good experience overall. Thanks to a good support system and some introspection I found something useful in the experience. It probably didn’t hurt that I was always taking Psychology courses (seriously, if you want too much personal insight, become a counseling major).
I learned that I tend to take on too much, get mixed up in my priorities, and become overwhelmed. And if I don’t manage that carefully then there is a cost to my performance. Luckily I have internalized that lesson now to the point where I never do it anymore. Just ask my wife, she’ll vouch for that.
Nah, I’m just fruiting with you. I still do that.
Learning this about myself didn’t change my nature, but it alerted me to an important blind spot in my personality, something I have to watch for as I plan out my life and decide which projects, plans, secret missions, or social engagements I accept. And without the cost, without paying the price of the F-word, I wouldn’t have learned the lesson.
So now my challenge is to celebrate the reality of my Failures, to try and move quickly past the sting of the fresh bloody wound (seriously, why all the red?) and find the hidden lesson to help me find the path to a more pleasant, unfailing words, maybe even one beginning with an S.