Monday, April 14, 2008

A Four Letter Word Beginning in F: On Failure

When I was in sixth grade I wanted to participate in the _________ Elementary 6th Grade Talent Show. As far as talent shows go, this was a big deal for my classmates and me. On a grey February day the sign-up sheet was passed around. I printed my name on the list with all of the anticipation an awkward 12-year-old could possess. I was certain that displaying my talent, whatever it might be (would I dance? sing? attempt ventriloquism?), for all the 6th graders to see could only provide evidence my unquestionable capacity for greatness. And so, my commitment was made. In the Spring I was to give what would undoubtedly be the performance of a lifetime.

Weeks passed by. The teacher reminded us each week of the upcoming performance. My friends spoke of their rehearsal schedules for the event. But life was happening as life tends to do and there was always more time. A girl with my flare and natural ability could certainly manage to pull it together by the time we performed.

You all see where this is going, of course. I didn't prepare until the night prior, and by then my practice was futile. So, on a Monday afternoon in the Spring, there in the school cafeteria, I stood before 80 of my ruthless peers with the cassette tape insert of Disney's Aladdin in hand, attempting, unaccompanied, to sing a solo of the duo "A Whole New World" (which happened to be one of my top three favorite songs of the moment). You can imagine the outcome. While the word gruesome comes to mind, I daresay 12-year-old boys took the taunting of my foible to a new level of cruelty in the weeks that followed. I seem to recall Nick C. (whom I will always loathe with a vicious hatred...until I seek intense psychotherapy) nailing quite the impersonation of my "performance." (My hatred for Nick C., lest it seem a little harsh, continued when he mercilessly dubbed me "Shamu" during the torture which we refer to as junior high school.)

Now, I tell you this story not for your kind pity (but I do deserve a little sympathy here, people). I tell you this story because I remember it in every painful, unharmonized, stumbling, Dear-God-PLEASE-Let-This-Linoleum-Covered-Earth-Swallow-Me-Whole-Until-I-Reach-College-Or-My-Untimely-Demise-Detail. Of many events during my childhood, I cleary remember this one.

My "performance" was a flop. A failure. Washout. Wreck. Bungle. A humiliation of the worst kind. Piece of pure rubbish. And oh, did it hurt. But here is the thing: I survived. Yes, survived. Now, I may not have walked myself into this kind of situation ever again (though I occasionally have nightmares of similar situations), but I made it through alive and well. And today I can even laugh at it--it is quite funny, really. (Though poor Nick C. still hasn't quite gained my full forgiveness).

Not only did I survive the Talent Show Catastrophe of '93, but I learned from it. I learned that talent or no, nothing replaces hard work, practice, and preparation. I learned that I had the ability, even as an overdramatic 12-year-old, to bounce back from the "depths of despair" and face those who mocked me with my head held high. I learned that I should never make fun of someone else's stumbles (exempting Nick C., of course). I learned that duets are best when sung by two people. And I learned that Nick C. would probably amount to very little in this life. Afterall, he didn't even try to participate in the Talent Show (my predictions, by the way, turned out to be quite true..."The Rookie is Petty Confession Time": I have been known to peruse the "head shots" of former classmates on a certain county jail's booking website which featured a certain grown "Saint" Nick).

The thing about failure is that we do learn from our failures far more than we ever do from our successes. Success is common and rather boring, really (unless accompanied by a previous failure overcome--why do you think everybody loves a good underdog story?). Failure offers life lessons that can't be taught any other way. And that is a gift we should acknowledge.

Oh, and if you think I'm original in my thinking (ha! that is something I am most certainly NOT): Click here for a more eloquent musing on failure. Furthermore, my comments seem scant of late--I'd love to hear all about your worst failures that taught you the very most.


LovingTheChaos said...

Oh...I otta. Nick C. will forever be on my s*** list for teasing my beautiful sister!

Thank you for sharing that torturous story. :) We've all had those moments. I still get sick thinking about a few of mine. :)

You rock. Your next blog should be about the beautiful solo dance in high school! :) Music included!

Ashley said...

I hate Nick C.!!! What a loser!

The sad thing for me is I never tried. I am always afraid to fail. I missed out on way to many things for fear that I might fail.

So I think it's better that you did sing instead of sitting in the audience with me wishing you could be up there sing "Look at this stuff" like Arial.

jen said...

I think the N in Nick stands for nincompoop. I just love that word.

I once failed to interview an old person for a history class, and I was the only person in the class whose father ran the local nursing home, so the teacher was pretty put out. I only learned that I am very stubborn deep down in my heart and was mildly agoraphobic at the time...

Stine said...

I wish I coulda been there to offer comfort for the "whole new world" incident. But alas, I was creating a few of my own performance failures at SUU at the time.

You're right though, some of my failures have taught me the very most. Many of them are performance related, although presently, tax and business failures are forefront in my mind. I'm currently trying to find the lesson in these failures.

Alice said...

Oh kid. I hate Nick C. too. I wish I was there to cheer for your Whole New World debut, (maybe I was?)

As for the mean name calling in Jr. High- What a mean boy! Ugh.

I agree with Chaos, how about sharing a story about your beautiful dance number when you were a Senior.

Thanks for this post. You are right, while you want to be swallowed whole sometimes, the fact that we survive sure teaches us a lot. What a blessing.

You rock my friend.