Learning to Fail

Dammit , this shit’s not funny. Again. I’m starting to think that like the unprepossessing yet productive oyster, I  can’t produce a pearl unless I’m irritated. As this blog pretty much takes the place of costly therapy for me, I’m hoping if I purge some of the boring stuff I can once again rant at top form. Pressing on…

At about this time last year I started feeling a little stagnant. Maybe it was the impending middle-age making me cranky, who knows. But I decided that I needed to reacquaint myself with failure. Not that I’m such a massive success story, but because in all my years I learned to avoid the feelings of failure by not taking too many chances. I should find someone to blame, some precipitating experience. Oh, here’s one: I learned to read way early. In fact, I can’t remember a time I didn’t know how to read (english and music, come to think of it) which actually may say more about my lousy memory than any particular giftedness. Regardless, my parents always made sure I had plenty of books, I had a great University pre-school co-op education so that by the time I got to kindergarten, I sat smugly in my chair as everyone learned the alphabet, certain that I did not have to practice writing the letters and sounding them out due to my many books, chalkboard and crayons. This school stuff was going to be AWESOME. I was AWESOME at learning. I didn’t even have to try! I knew all of school!! So the next day I sat smugly again, patting myself on the back for my intelligence, when a math worksheet broke my reverie. It was then that I realized I could not make a “5”. I was stymied. I tried copying the figure with the arrows, but try as I might, I could not figure out how that top line attached to the rest of the “5”. I think it took me a couple of weeks before an epiphany led me to put it on the Right side of the numeral, not on the left, like a strange hieroglyph of a wheelchair. But what that experience taught me was not, alas, some things wiLl take more effort than others, but instead, MATH IS IMPOSSIBLE! I DON’T UNDERSTAND NUMBERS! I WILL NEVER GET THIS!!!

The guiding philosophy of my education has pretty much been “Either You Excel, Or You Suck. Stick With What You’re Good At”. I need not explain why this was a fairly poisonous attitude, but even after all these years, it sits in my lizard brain, poking me every time I fail at something. That sense of shame is deeply itchy and unpleasant. I grew up and decided I didn’t like that feeling, so class loads became random patchworks of non-mathematical pursuits, and I quickly surrendered whenever faced with a challenge. Why bother? I was going to suck anyway. Why not marshall my efforts to something I’m not going to suck at? It did not make me even better at those things. There was a flaw in that logic. As a grown-up, I can say I’m pretty good at accounting type mathematics, and I’m super-awesome at fractions and conversions that come up in recipes, so there is evidence that if I tried a little harder, maybe I could have made some progress (except dance. guys, I tried, I really did. I have some sort of dyslexia of the body which allows me only to physically express myself in Polka. This is less useful for professional musical theatre purposes than you would think.) but it never sank in.

So last year I thought maybe I felt like I was spinning my wheels because I never tried. Maybe I need to get past my fear of failure by trying something I most certainly will fail at. My mind immediately went to music. I thought of auditioning for a choir – one that would probably not need me. I could only think of two possibilities, and this is not ego speaking. I am so awesome in a choir you don’t even know. Not only can I sight read pretty damn well, I blend like an Osterizer. You can put me anywhere in a group and I can find the center of the tone and match it. (and now all my St. Thomas friends are going to cackle gleefully at my hubris and I’ll sound like an adenoidal chicken at our retreat next month because I’ve read those greek plays. I know how this shit works). But still. Two choirs. One I think would give me a 50/50 chance. Those odds were a little close to success, and I wasn’t sure I was ready to commit. The other would be like, 1200-to-1. Sounds great, right? Well, that one has a recorded audition process, wherein you would send in your CD (srsly, no MP3s? must you reinforce the stereotype of classical musicians being a bunch of clueless olds?) and I guess if they liked you they’d tell you where they rehearsed, but if they didn’t you just never heard from them. This would hardly help me face my fears.

I was contemplating this exact same conundrum this year, when a position became available at work. One that was still within my department, reporting to my favorite supervisor, working with similar things that I’ve been doing for the last 7 years. Reading the job description, it seemed tailor made for me. There were drawbacks though. I conversation with the supervisor confirmed that it was more of a lateral move than a step up for me. And (and this was a biggie) it would mean leaving the union, and it’s wonderful perks, such as fully-paid insurance and pension, OT pay for when they needed me to work OT, and the knowledge that if I was going to be shit-canned, I’d see it coming a mile away. But still. The ability to move in the organization. A job title that might actually be transferable to some other industry should I decide I couldn’t take it anymore in the land of sunshine and superficiality. I held my breath and applied. I actually had to re-do my resume (WE HATES IT, PRECIOUSSSS!) find an interview appropriate outfit (in LA. for a fat lady. hahahahahahaha!!!!) and interview. So I put forth an effort on an unknown outcome and crossed my fingers. For what, I wasn’t sure. Like I said, there were some drawbacks to that job. Still, I trusted everything would work out. As the week wore on, I became more ambivalent, if that’s possible.

A few days ago, a kind co-worker let slip that she heard they had hired someone else. Aside from the irritation that nobody bothered to tell me, I have to admit I was relieved. But still, my “failure” kind of itched. But I soon began to realize that like that break-up I had that one time, I was more butt-hurt about being rejected than heartbroken over the loss. I was never in love with that dude/job in the first place. So yesterday I was officially informed that they had chosen someone else for the position; another internal candidate, this one with a slightly different (but applicable) set of skills. Thanks to the heads-up of my co-worker, I wasn’t shocked and I had had time to process my emotions so I didn’t burst out into THE FEELS in his office. And then the manager said: “If you’d like to schedule a meeting next week, I can give you feedback on your interview. I think there may be some opportunities coming up and we’d like you to be ready to move up when the right one is available.” Huh.

So, to sum up: I took a chance. It didn’t work out. The world did not stop spinning. I am not being followed by one of those inflatable wavy-arm guys with sign saying “YOU SUCK!”. The next challenge will be finding a time next week where I can accept constructive criticism while not getting defensive or weird about it (I am so bad at this). Happy are they who hear their detractions and can put them to mending, right?

And one more thing in my ongoing Become An Adult project; I decided I need to learn a new skill if I want to stave off early senility. Not a new language or instrument – I have already developed those neural pathways, and would be best served by working on the german, polish and cello skills I’ve already started. Something entirely new. And also, cheap. To that end, I purchased a drop spindle and some wool with some of my generous birthday bounty and am teaching myself to hand spin. Something about being a literal Spinster is funny and appealing to me. Everything I’ve read says there is no way to learn this but through making mistakes. And I’m supergood at that! I’ve already noticed some improvement in the first three skeins. I have no desire to knit – I’ll have to send my decent output to knitting friends. It’s going to be a challenging year for me – failing, being criticized, making handicrafts. I hope I survive!

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2 thoughts on “Learning to Fail

  1. wiredwizard says:

    Hand spinning – definitely a more economic hobby to pick up than what my mother went for. 4 pottery wheels, 3 kilns, 2 guild memberships, a ton & a half of tools, all spread across 2 houses: here in AB, and their winter place in AZ. Plus on to of that the costs of clays, glazes, waxes, etc. It’s a good thing she makes enough selling the pottery to cover most of the costs or that hobby would have ground to a halt pretty quick.

  2. nerdycellist says:

    Cello is a fairly expensive hobby, cooking’s not cheap. Sewing (which I swear to god I’m going to learn to do competently) is not either. I can’t imagine the costs of pottery, but good on your mom for making money off of it. None of my hobbies pays.

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