Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Scrapin’ Failure Off My Boots

I have failed – both spectacularly with witnesses galore and by hidden means that not even a therapist would hear about. And I have succeeded in similar ways. The successes raised my spirits and brought honor to my family, if only for the short while that anyone remembered them.

The failures, on the other hand….Ah, the failures. They have haunted me with each step I took. The fear of failure grasped my elbow, and whispered defeating thoughts in my ears at each challenge that I accepted or rejected.

The whispers reminded me how I failed Algebra in 9th grade, resulting in horror from parents who always assured me that I was smart. I had to deal with the never-ending inquisition over how I could possibly have failed something; after all, I was a straight-A student. I also was, quite embarrassingly, discharged from the Honor Society. And had to face the indignity of re-taking the course as a sophomore with the other “layabouts and dumb students.”

The whispers reminded me that I never could pass Algebra in college, leading to my eventual discharge without a degree – something I failed to acknowledge for a very long time.

The whispers reminded me that I suck at reading school books. I never read a class book unless I was desperate for a better grade. And I never was desperate because the grade I made always was good enough for me, even if it wasn’t as high as that of my smarter friends. After all, I’d failed Algebra and been demoted to regular English after my sophomore year. The whispers said that I’d already proved that I wasn’t on my friends’ level academically anyway. Thus, I no longer had to be that straight-A student.

And because I didn’t have to be a top-mark person any more, I stopped being one. Right through college, definitely through my first job where I came in late on a regular basis and preferred to play solitaire rather than write articles. And BANG! It all became reality when the interviewer for my next job pointed out that I was barely good enough for the position since I didn’t have a college degree and the writing samples from my first job weren’t of the best quality.

Oh yeah, the whispers like to remind me of that salutary moment.

I spent eight years at that company trying to prove that I could be the quality person they expected me to be. Ignoring the whispers as often as possible, working my butt off. And then the buy-out happened, and the layoffs came. I had the opportunity to work for a larger firm in Minneapolis or with a lot of my current co-workers who moved to the L.A. area.

But I didn’t take on those challenges because I was listening to the negative voice that said I would fail if I stepped out of my safe little zone. Surely, it whispered, there’s a company in Houston that’s just good enough. Because I certainly didn’t need to find some place better.

So I found a safe job that challenged me just enough but not too much. And there I stayed for five years, while my friends moved on to cooler job opportunities and while my former co-workers found amazing success at the companies that I’d turned down in Minneapolis and L.A.

And I envied their ability to take the job risk, to move out of a safe zone.

For a long time, I let that negative voice direct me. It had taught me to hide my failures to the point where everyone just assumed I was successful, even when I knew I wasn’t.

However, somewhere along the way, I found my career niche and learned that failures weren’t such a bad thing. After all, my problems with credit card debt or with not making a deadline at work seemed a tad insignificant while the company was five months behind on product deliveries or showed a steady decline in sales. The company, and its owner, were failing a lot more spectacularly than I ever had, and with more dire consequences to far more people that just me and my embarrassed family!

I started to wonder if I were the only person walking around with a special safety zone, which insulated me from the major failures lurking outside and kept my little failures hidden inside. The realization came to me slowly, but eventually I caught on: The safety insulation that kept risks at bay also filtered out the good stuff.

Sure, I had bought a house and been out of debt for years and my boss thought I walked on water a lot of the time. Good stuff! But instead of relishing those triumphs, I focused on the things that I hadn’t done right and on the things that still needed to be done but that I couldn’t do because I was afraid of making mistakes.

I was so busy avoiding failure that I also avoided true success.

Now THAT is embarrassing. So I finally took a risk…I accepted a job as a sales representative. Right from the start I knew that my personality wasn’t suited for closing sales (cheerleading / marketing, yes! but not pushing people to buy); however, I tackled the task. I even hired a sales coach to help me out in the early stages. I got the hang of the job; in fact, I made some small, steady progress. However, in the company’s eyes and in my own, I FAILED.

Whoohoo, I really failed. And the best part is that there’s no little negative whisper saying “I told you so” because I took this risk in full acknowledgement that I could fail. And that it would be okay with me if I did.

Because, really, in my books I will count that job as a success, a spectacular triumph. Not for my performance, but for taking the risk in accepting the job in the first place.

So, now I’m on to bigger and more exciting risks. After all, what’s the worst that could happen? I’ve already done the whole failure bit and stomped its mouth shut beneath my snow-covered boots. I’m searching for success now.


Rhonda said...

I'm glad one of us can rise above the failure bit. It still paralyzes me with fear. I always did think you were the braver of the two of us.

Mike said...

Well, at least you have a great outlook, as you should. Just happened upon your site. You write very well. Enjoyed the read.

Linds said...

Every time you shed a little more light onto "The Meesh" I realize how much you and I have in common...

You are one of the strongest people I have ever met. It's one of the things I admire most about you. Despite the boss that can't pronnounce your name and turs his AOL up to 11, I'd say you're in the right place. ;)

Linds said...

PS> mind the spelling errors... the coffee hasn't hit the blood stream yet.

Meesh said...


Y'know, it's not like I'm free of the negative whispers: I hear them all the time at work, particularly when someone asks me to do something I've not done before or I'm uncertain about how it should be done.

I'm just much better at silencing the negative voice these days.

goodwitch said...

You've always been the princess in the castle to and safe behind your high walls and creature filled moat. I've never, ever, thought of you as anything but brilliant and succesful...and predict that won't change.
I wager that all of us have that wicked negative voice...mine has been so damn loud this last year. Thanks for sharing this intimate part of your life with us. Know that your words have once again helped me deal with my own demons.

Meesh said...

Except that the high walls and moat was my insulation from risk. That's the problem. I wasn't being strong...I was hiding from potential failures.