Demystifying Failure

I am not an overachiever. I do not have a long list of awards and accolades to my name. Throughout my highschool and university career, I largely coasted by on hard earned Bs and Cs. So I am not especially gifted or accomplished but I never failed a course. I never got fired from a job. I’ve never been in a position where I’ve been told that my performance is unacceptable.

Now, I know some people who have failed courses or dropped out of school altogether. I never know quite what to say to them because I treat their stories with my own deep fear of failure. I have long been terrified of what might happen if I were ever to fail at something. I would never have intentionally sabotaged myself but sometimes I wished that I had failed at least one course in my academic career, just so I could have known that life goes on after failure. I no longer express this feeling as it usually gets interpreted as ungrateful or as a ‘humble brag.’

I hear people in their thirties or older talking about their past failures in academics, jobs, or relationships and they’ll almost laugh at them. They’ll laugh at their past selves for having been so worried. They pass through this gauntlet of failure, this apparent rite of passage, and emerge not defeated but invulnerable.

By contrast I, standing before the gauntlet, imagined lots of potential outcomes. I imagined the disappointment of authorities and the oppressive weight of my own incompetence. Yet I see these more seasoned adults who think of their failures and don’t flinch. They don’t celebrate their failures but they’re at peace with them and are driven forward more by what is to be gained than what is to be lost.

Now I look back on the past year of my life and (to my error) compare it with those of my peers who graduated with me a year ago. I can’t say the year was wasted. I can point to intellectual, creative, and character growth. But the one thing I can’t stop thinking about is money. And now I am essentially broke.

This is my introduction to failure – financial failure. Profound monetary shortfall. Financial faceplant, waning wallet, budget blunder. And as I lay face-down in the mud, embarrassedly living off the understanding and generosity of others as I try to pick myself up, I think of these people who have failed and survived and my backwards retrospective wish to have failed a course. And as I lay in the proverbial mud, I note that I’m still breathing and people out there care about me.

The lesson I’m determined to learn from this is that failure is not an end. It may have consequences but it doesn’t mean that all hope is lost. There’s more to a person than their performance.

Perhaps failure isn’t all it’s made up to be. Once I’ve picked myself up and dusted myself off I imagine I will join the ranks who look back on their failures confident in the knowledge that it wasn’t such a big deal.

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