The Times I've Failed

It’s fun and easy to talk about the times we succeed.  It is fun to tell (and to hear) the stories of the amazing job success story, or the time someone made an amazing catch in an intramural softball game, or the best interview you ever had.  But sometimes the best stories and our best learning experiences come from the times we’ve failed.

I am a borderline perfectionist and competitive to the core.  This has placed a lot of internal pressure on me since I was a little girl, on top of the expectations my parents and teachers always had of me.  So, in my younger days, I always took failure a little bit hard.  I remember when I was seven and attending a Christian elementary school, we had Scripture memory recitations and I was absolutely fuming when another little girl beat me to getting her ribbon for competition up on the wall.  We had the entire school year – until the end of June – to complete the process and recitation. But her ribbon went up on the wall before Christmas. 

What I didn’t understand then, of course, was how perceived failure drives us forward.  Within a week, my ribbon was beside hers on the wall.  Had she not beat me to it, it may have been weeks or months before I completed mine.

As I got older, I learned to value failure a little better.  I also learned to temper my response to it a little more maturely.  While my spidey-senses sometimes start to tingle when I feel like someone is about to best me, I try to respond to that reasonably and for my own good.  I was an absolute dunce at math starting in about the ninth grade.  A tutor helped me pass the 9th-grade government exams, but as tenth and eleventh grade rolled around, I was struggling terribly.  The teacher would ask, “What is it you don’t understand?”  My answer: “all of it!”  By my final year, as I have mentioned before, I held on by a thread to graduate and then my teacher, to whom I will forever be grateful, somehow saw in me what was wrong and how to fix it.  Without her, I may never have learned math and gone on to excel at it. 

The years that I struggled through in math were a burden to me.  It was frustrating not only to fail but feeling so helpless and lost even to understand basic concepts.  Had it not been for that failure, I’d have never been able to appreciate overcoming that challenge.  More importantly, I’d never have understood what I can accomplish if I seek the right help and put forth the right effort.  I learned something about myself in that failure.

In the years since then, I have failed at many other things.  I have struggled with my weight, I have been overlooked for a job I really wanted, and I have been told at work that I am unimpressive!  Say it isn’t so!  But in every one of these failures, and many others, I have learned a valuable lesson, and taught myself to push harder; to move forward rather than throw in the towel. 

I may not be the strongest or fastest or smartest in any given situation, but the one thing I can be is the person with the best attitude.  And that is a lesson I learned only through failure.