Should I turn it in? Should I submit this application? Should I submit this essay? Should I share this on facebook?
These thoughts run through my head daily as I look to post articles on the web, apply for jobs, or submit an essay to be graded. I don’t want people not to like it, yet I don’t want to chicken out and not have faith in myself. Recently, I learned I am constantly in fear of one thing: failure.
I don’t know when my fear of failure first gripped my soul and suffocated my every breath. It could have started in the first grade when I received my first “minus“ the F of elementary school grades.
I was six years old and taking a math quiz. The glossy, almost plastic paper in front of me had cartoon drawings of coins on it. The question asked, “How many pennies make a dollar?” In my first grade years, I thought I was very smart. My mom always told me I was smart, my dad always told me I was smart, even my teachers told me I was smart. So, with my smart confidence I boldly wrote down “99.” I guess I wasn’t as smart as I thought. The next few questions were similar, all based around how many cents in a dollar. I stuck with my gut and wrote 99 on every single answer.
The next day the teacher passed our papers back. My nerves didn’t bother me in the slightest. Ms. Arnold went down the aisles and handed papers to each of my peers, eventually handing me mine. I flipped it over and my stomach dropped. Red markings slashed through every question, and I realized I failed to answer a single question right. Tears pressed at the corners of my eyes and my heart sank to my stomach. I guess I wasn’t as smart as everyone always told me. At least, my six-year-old brain thought so.
Fifteen years later the fear of failure still haunts me. I don’t know why, but I cannot stand to fail. I cannot stand to see a letter of rejection, a F on an essay or C on a test. Every failure stabs me in the heart and punches me in the gut. Every rejection reminds me of first grade when I failed a math quiz.
To some this might seem ridiculous and overdramatic. But to be clear, I am not saying I have a fear of failure because one time when I was six I failed a math quiz. No, I think everyone has a sense of fear in them when it comes to failure, and it is perfectly okay. I mean, honestly, can anyone say they really just love to fail? I didn’t think so.
Through my years, well to be more precise the past two years, I have learned there is a sort of beauty and purpose in letting myself fail and be rejected.
As a junior in college, I thought I knew it all. Coming off a perfect 4.0 semester, I thought I was on top of the world. Entering my second semester, I thought I could do no wrong.
It turned out to be the most frustrating semester of my life.
My PR professor gave me a 20% on a resume, and my average grade on daily work was probably 65%. Second semester definitely was not as easy as I thought. I often cried out of stress and frustration. I hated her, I hated the class, I thought she graded ridiculously hard and I thought I knew better than she did. I didn’t know how to turn it around, and it seemed like nothing I did made my grades any better.
My English class proved just as bad, if not worse. I never received better than a C on the exams even though I studied weeks in advanced, read daily, and participated in class. I tried my hardest to do well and be successful, but in my head I was a failure. At least I’ll have the essay grades I thought to myself. Yet again, I was wrong. We turned in our first essays, a literary criticism. After she had them for two weeks, she returned them all to us and said, “ I am not putting a grade on any of these. Trust me, you don’t want me to. Instead I want you all to set up conferences this week and rewrite your essay before the end of the semester.”
When I went in to see her she told me it looked like I put little to no effort in my paper, and I needed to rewrite the entire thing.
*Que the water works.
Literally. I cried in her office, right there, on the spot. I always prided myself on writing and essays and now this professor was telling me I wasn’t as good as I thought. Yep. Rejection hurts.
All this rejection led me to doubt myself. I doubted my ability to write, I doubted my ability as an employee, I doubted my ability as a student, and I doubted my ability to be successful.
I wish I could say the semester got better. In the end, I guess it sort of did. I mean, I received B in both classes. Not bad, but not great. Yet, I made it through. I saw the light at the end of the tunnel, and I persevered. Thankfully, I learned a few things from my year of failures. These lessons I will carry with me for the rest of my life and are more valuable to me than any grade I received.
First and foremost, failure is inevitable. You cannot do everything perfect all the time. Not everyone is going to like your writing style, your essay, your thesis, or even your personality. No, you cannot please everyone. Therefore, you cannot succeed at everything and that is OKAY. Focus on the positives, learn from your mistakes, and move on. Take the lessons failure taught you and apply it to your next adventure, your next paper, your next job application, or even your next date.
Nothing good comes from being afraid of failure. If I feared failing every time I applied for something or turned in an essay I wouldn’t have had the jobs I have, I wouldn’t have gone to Italy and I wouldn’t have gained the confidence to know I can succeed. If I let my past failures keep me from improving and writing then I wouldn’t be writing this right now and sharing it with all of you. Furthermore, if I let fear of failure control me, I wouldn’t be graduating early and pursuing my dreams in New York City. As my pastor Jon Purkey always says, “If your dreams don’t scare you, you aren’t dreaming big enough.” Therefore, don’t be afraid of failing. Embrace it and face it.
Every failure is a lesson. Recently, I was reading The Paris Wife by Paula McLain. It is a deeply moving novel about Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley. In the novel, Hadley has a beautiful quote about mistakes and failures. She says. “Sometimes I wish we could rub out all our mistakes and start fresh, from the beginning. And sometimes I think there isn’t anything to us but our mistakes.” I like to think this is true when it comes to me. I like to think all of my failures have defined me as a daughter, student, writer, and prospective employee. Failure means you’re learning. Failure means you’re putting yourself out there. Furthermore, failure means you’re not afraid to try.
To some, my failures might seem ridiculous. I mean, lets be honest, I only listed educational failures. However, success in my grades and professional life has always been how I value my worth. I am more accepting of my personality flaws and social flaws, and although some might see this as backward or weird I have been this way ever since I received my first failing grade as a six-year-old.
Everyone fears failure. Whether it is failure with friends, sports, school, work or parenting. Instead of letting our fears of failure hold us back we should plunge into them headfirst knowing we will come out on the other side better and stronger. I wish I understood all of this at six years old. I would have saved myself some embarrassment and teasing about crying over a grade, and I wouldn’t have let my fears of failure define my life. Thankfully, I am still young and have my whole life ahead of me to fail.