Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Embracing the F Word

All of my life, I dreaded the F word.


Jimmy Choo "Besso" Sandal.
Failure not an option here.
My earliest memory of its glaring red-penned presence emerged in a first grade classroom.  Sr. John* held up a dash-lined sheet of paper that was worn thin from incessant erasures.  "This is how a slob writes," she proclaimed to our class.  "Failure."

That paper--with its weakly curved letter formations--was mine.  The word "failure" caused me to momentarily slip from my own body and become a detached witness to my own public flogging. Ouch.

There were other disconcerting F-bombs as well: a conspicuous mar on my college transcript for the 5 am aerobics class I slept through all semester, the F on a chemistry test after memorizing  Avogadro and his number, the numerous attempts to reach an unattainable, unrealistic goal weight, and the heart-wrenching relationships that had imploded upon emotional impact. 


And yet some of the greatest teachers of my life.

Failure gashes frail egos and compels a white-knuckled surrender.  It's the "I-told-you-so" without the reiterative speech--forcing us to look deeper within ourselves to re-think and re-imagine.  While it almost never feels good in the moment, the knee-scraping of failure is simply necessary for the eventual victory lap. 

How can we ever understand sweetness if we eat sugar exclusively?

Failure gets such a bad rap--especially in our success-driven, everybody-gets-a-trophy society. As a mother, I applaud our attempts to create environments that are accepting, sensitive and supportive, but I often wonder what a disservice we are doing to our children when we send them the message that "everyone is a winner."  While I would never want a furrow-browed Sr. John* humiliating my sons for their chicken scratch, I know it is important for them to experience the bitterness of failure.

Even though I admit it is excruciatingly painful to witness.

Phone rings:  "Ma, I forgot my  book report."  
Night before monthlong project due date:  "I have to finish my project. It's due tomorrow."
Any given afternoon:  "I think I left my phone on the field.  In the rain."

Let the wrestling commence:  to fail or not to fail?  There have been times I have narrowly avoided speeding tickets to make it to craft stores to get more glue dots, new display boards, adhesive felt.  Note to self:  never mess with coupon-carrying crafters before closing. 

The time that I abandoned a full cart at Trader Joe's to deliver a forgotten book report to school.  Thank goodness no one is ever pissy in that Hawaiian shirt of a store.

The time that my husband ransacked a Home Depot to find copper wire in hopes of salvaging a science project flop. 

And there are the times that our urge to rescue is forcibly restrained in strait-jackets as we watch our children painfully fumble through defeat and disappointment.

After the wincing stops, I remind myself how important it is to embrace silver-lined failure and the phoenix from those barely-remembered ashes.  But ashes that existed nonetheless.

When we surrender to our failures we welcome opportunities to evolve. Continually fixing every misstep robs our children of cultivating an ability to become self-sufficient and strong.  We cannot--and should not--let our children and ourselves habitually side-step failure as this prevents the emergence of valuable learning experiences and hard-earned work ethics.  

Failure is often a well-draped gem and a respectable afterthought.

We all need to "F" it once in a while.

*Names have been changed.