There’s something fraught with our relationship to success and failure.
I know for many people, the idea of failure is panic-inducing. Failure in many cases can be the difference between life or death, between getting that job you’ve been gunning for your whole life and getting passed over for someone else.
I thought I understood the old adage about failure being a teacher when I was younger. It’s what I would tell myself when I was about as much of a “failure” as you can imagine—from promising A+ student to a university drop-out, working three minimum wage jobs and losing one of them because I overslept and missed my shift, twice. As I sat there panicking in my basement suite, exhausted beyond belief from working literally day and night to afford my independence, I would comfort myself with the idea that all my mistakes were building up to something. That I would learn something from all the dumb shit I was doing.
What I didn’t really realize at the time was that, honestly? I wasn’t really learning anything. I was waiting to be taught, for the universe to reach down and give me a detailed list of what I needed to be doing to get my life together. That’s not how learning works. That’s not how the universe works. While I was toasting the idea of failure and day drinking on my days off, completely alone, I didn’t realize that my biggest failure was how afraid I was to fail.
I know, it seems a bit backwards. But I think if you look at a lot of people who fall under the category of “failure” by society’s standards—burnouts, drop-outs, et cetera—a lot of us are just paralyzed. We become these people because we expect to become these people, and we’re afraid of really trying to be anyone else and becoming these people anyway. It’s like getting the urge to jump when you’re standing next to a significant height. You’re so afraid of the fall that part of you sort of just wants to get it over with.
Also, a lot of us have, like, really bad unaddressed mental health issues. In my case, I had an undiagnosed learning disability as well as a shit ton of mood disorders, and neither education nor employment fields do an adequate job of supporting people like me. Maybe think about that next time you look askance at one of your old high school classmates who had “so much going for them” before they seem to drop off the face of the earth, because that’s exactly what I did.
But aside from the mental illness factor—or tying into it, depending on how you see things—I really was afraid to do things, to try things, in case they didn’t work out for me. I was afraid of applying for better jobs because I didn’t think I’d be able to do them. I was afraid of going back to school because I was afraid I wouldn’t do well in class. I have passed up more opportunities than you can imagine and yes, a lot of that has been because I have a genuine, clinically diagnosed inability to keep my paperwork in order, but also because of fear.
I thought I was embracing the lessons failure had to teach me, but I was just embracing failure as a way of life.
I guess I’m thinking about all this because of a few reasons. I’ve spent the past few months applying for jobs and sending writing out to be considered for publication. I just received an email from Douglas telling me that I’ll be graduating in June—it took me four years to complete a two-year program, and it’s a bittersweet victory, let me tell you.
I’m still afraid of failure, but I think I might finally be learning something from it.
Until next issue,