I’ve been feeling pretty low at work recently for various reasons, none of which I will go into here. Work has been slow and money is beyond tight right now. I suppose I’m just experiencing one of those phases where lots of things go wrong all at once. Perhaps later on I will look back on this time and see it differently, but being in it has been extremely challenging and painful. Times like these help me appreciate good times that much more.
So, yesterday I was teaching my high school students. I was almost at the end of a very grueling schedule and just two students away from a three day weekend. I was tired and there was very little fuel left in the tank. The student in front of me was a sweet young girl who I only recently began teaching. I could see how hard she was trying, but I could also see the wall between her and achieving her goal. Like so many girls her age, this girl was afraid to fail.
I saw so much of myself in her. I saw myself at her age and remembered how hell-bent I was on being perfect. I believed that perfection would shield me from the swirling insanity at home, the insidious emotional abuse at school, and the demons I was fighting on my own because I didn’t trust them to anyone else. Perfection was my protection against the loneliness, pain, insecurity, and deep sadness that I felt from age 13 until I graduated high school at 18 (then I traded in perfection for addiction).
I shared none of this with my student. My baggage wasn’t her problem. I’m the teacher in this situation, so I taught.
This is basically what I said, in a moment of blind inspiration:
It’s amazing to me that as we get older we lose the courage it takes to try and fail. We get older and we become afraid to try new things because we are afraid to fail, especially in front of other people.
When we were babies, we held our heads up, we rolled over, we sat up, we pulled up to stand, and one day we tried to walk. It was probably an unqualified disaster. Maybe we took a step or two, and then we fell flat on our ass. So what did we do? We LAUGHED! We tried, we failed, and we laughed about it.
How many times did we try to walk and fail? What if we had stopped trying after the first taste of failure? Where would we be now? As babies, we are driven to try over and over again until we experience the joy of getting what we worked so hard for. We inherently understand that repeated failure is the prerequisite for success. We are not embarrassed or ashamed of our failures. We take them in stride and keep moving forward until we achieve our goal.
How do we lose that? Why do we become so self conscious about failure, even when we know in our heart that it is necessary? How do we get back to the innocence that allowed us to fail repeatedly without caring how others saw us? We need to return to that mind set. We need to be babies again. We need to laugh when we fall.
As with so many moments in which I feel like my teaching flows through me rather than from me, I began to hear my own words echoing in my head. I could see with my eyes that my student was getting the point of what I was saying, but I could feel in my heart that my words were not just for her. Those words, those thoughts that were so carefully calculated to take advantage of a teaching moment, were the salve my own spirit needed. I needed to hear the words I was saying. So much of my teaching career has been made up of these moments of lucidity in which I transcend being the teacher my students need and I become the teacher I need. The truth within me becomes clear enough for me to see what I’ve been missing and needing.
These, for me, are moments of both mercy and grace. They are the answers to my prayer I say every morning: “Lord, open my lips and my mouth shall show forth your praise.” Every day I ask Him to use me to serve others. Some days, He uses me to heal myself.
Over the last six years, I have tried and failed seven times to achieve a goal that is near and dear to my heart and would be enormously beneficial to my family. Lately, that failure has weighed on me, embarrassed me, angered and saddened me, and made me feel profoundly and deeply ashamed. I have been angry with myself and with the people I saw as being “in my way”. Mostly, I have been angry with God because I don’t understand why no has been the answer to my repeated prayers. I have been a petulant child. I have expected to get things because I think I deserve them and I think it is “my time”.
Duh. Lisa, that’s NOT the way this works. This isn’t a transactional situation. Life is not that simple. Shit just happens and the clean up is messy.
Perhaps the greatest lesson I SHOULD have learned during my daughter’s early years is the one I remember teaching her most often. Character, I told her, is not a measure of how many times life knocks you down. It is the measure of how well you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and keep going. I should’ve listened to myself better.
Failure is only the end of the road if you let it be. I could easily sit and lick my wounds and decide never to try again. The only thing that guarantees is that I will never reach my goal. That won’t be anyone else’s fault but mine. If what I want is so important, then I shouldn’t let anyone or anything stand in my way. I have to believe that it can happen and I have to be willing to let it happen in its own time. His time.
Embracing failure may be an odd concept, but it’s what I’ve got. I’m gonna give it a shot.