Narcissit? Who me?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Failure: A dish best served self-deprecated.

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. This little fountain of wisdom has spouted eternal in my brain. For as long as I can remember there have been incidents in my life where I have failed miserably, and repeatedly until finally through the grace of God, and my own stubbornness/ stupidity, my relentless attempts have been rewarded with success. Thankfully so. For it is because that, once in a blue moon, I do achieve my desired results, I am prompted to keep trying. Without the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, the promise of a favorable result, I wouldn’t ever, literally, stick my neck out and try. Stories about other’s success, I find, can be full of insight, wisdom, hope, and smarts. But, what it is not, is funny. My own, limited, and relative success is not at all interesting, and is mostly composed of stories involving making my bed, cooking an edible meal, and dressing myself. Success hasn’t played a large part in my life, but I can say, without a shadow of a doubt, that it is my failures, which have made me who I am today.

Talking about failures is a difficult and tricky subject. Mostly because it is not within the human nature to celebrate them, and because of my psychological disorder, I’ve squashed most of the memories of my failures into tiny blobs of sadness that make it possible for me to have the thin, shred of self confidence I possess. It’s hard to flesh the sagas of our failures, some of which I am sure are epic, because we don’t want our failures to define us. We want to be shiny, happy people, with volumized hair, and a perfect life our neighbors and friends are jealous of. Nobody wants to be known as the guy that failed his driver’s test, or the girl who flunked out of University. But after the fact, way after the fact, I can (and if I can, anyone can), look back on my failures and understand that they have happened for a reason and mostly, are for the best.

The first time I can clearly remember failing, emphasis on the remembering, because if there is one thing babies are good at its failure. Whether they are trying to walk, sit, stand, or use a toilet, babies are champions at it. I was around four or five and I was failing swimming lessons. Now, maybe I am an old school thinker, but I believe that kids should be allowed to pass the beginning levels by simply sitting on the side of the pool and waving, constantly, to their sister sent to watch them. Apparently those, big-wig sixteen year olds, in charge of the instructing of courses, believed that kids should be in the water for the program, no matter how cute it was. Subsequently, with my refusal to ‘participate’ I not only failed swimming lessons but was asked not to return for the second week of classes. Something about being ‘distracting’It stung a little bit, and it was a tad awkward when my big brother went down there an explained to the frightened teenagers that it was in their best interest to let me sit and wave for as long as I wanted, lest he have to come back and do some ‘splaining with his fists. I was perfectly content with my failure. Not having to go to swimming lessons meant I could simply sit on the couch, watching The Smurfs, and waving to my sister instructed to look after me. It is a comfort that I was able to find solace in my first failure. It gave me a tool box of emotional mechanisms I would be pulling from for the rest of my life.

Over the next few years I failed at many things. Making friends, not being the “weird kid” in skating, handling scissors, but since I was young and naïve I took it all in stride. I went on to fail at acting, and at being “normal” in high school. I failed at being an active participant in science fairs, and group projects, and most embarrassingly I failed my driver’s test. All rudimentary failures, that helped define me. But there were also the near failures that said just as much. There was my imagined failure in grade four. So convinced, that I was failing forth grade, suffocating under weeks of unfinished homework, and falling way behind comprehending division, never mind any ‘long’ I spent many a desperate hour pleading to be the rare, twice affected, weak immune system-ed child, to contract the chicken pox twice. When that didn’t work, I spent whole recesses, hurling myself off a snow bank, onto a patch of glare ice, in a valiant, if misguided attempt to break my right arm. The plan was that I would get to miss school, and thus escape my homework. Doing it would be impossible, I thought, because I was right handed, and I could never be expected to complete math homework in my weakened state. But because in addition to being slightly unhinged, I wasn’t all that brave, and since committing to the bodily harm involved with breaking one’s arm was significant, I didn’t have the gusto, and commitment necessary to go through with it. But, regardless I didn’t fail the forth grade, and despite my penchant for melodrama, I was apparently an attentive, and some how, cognitively solvent enough to handle fifth grade, without excess preparation. A near failure that showed my true colours: if life hands you something you can’t handle head straight for the nearest ice covered snow-bank and leap off.

Getting to University, failure and the threat of it, followed me wherever I went. “Flunking out” seemed a fate worse than death; reserved for those idiot “townies” I so mercilessly made fun of in my formative high school years. “Christmas Graduates” my mother called them, and I was terrified that I would become one. Classes were harder when the teacher wasn’t pleased by your earnest smile, and that fact you knew how to regurgitate facts, mere seconds after learning them. Failing seemed very possible in those ivory (asbestos lined) halls. Not that the fear of failure motivated me very much. My early days of university were spent avoiding my classes in favor of buying microwavable food in vast quantities, and consuming all of it while watching my roommates Oprah DVDs. But failure was on my mind. Before I accepted the natural course of my academic career, that of the liberal arts degree inevitability, I had a misguided semester exploring business as a major. Buoyed by the promise of money, and abundance of positions available to me upon my graduation I was swayed by the glamour and attraction of a degree in commerce. That and all my friends applied and I thought I should join them. Never the less, it was not a good fit. After suffering through my business classes for what seemed like an eternity (which was actually about two weeks) I dropped the ones I was able to, but was sadly sentenced to endure the pain that is economics, until the end of the semester.

I wasn’t nervous about economics to begin with. Partly because I often over exaggerate my own intelligence but also because I didn’t clearly understand, and still haven’t, comprehended what exactly economics is. I was reassured by the fact that my friends were taking it with me, negligent to the reality that they are much smarter than I am, with a far greater work ethic, and intrigued by the idea that if I could master this science I could make a fortune buying mass quantities of Coke at the most opportune moment.

My forte, as it turns out, wasn’t economics, and it certainly wasn’t made any more viable by the fact that the class was twice a week, at the ungodly hour of 8:00am. I missed the class more often then not, hardly motivated by the promise of a 15% attendance grade. And because I was venturing into a long winding spiritual journey- when I passed the class at Christmas I took it as a miracle, and as a sign I was meant to continue. Fresh off the success of a 51% grade come Christmas time, and probably only a little drunk off Christmas punch, I registered for another class, this time labeled with the fun prefix “macro.”

To put it shortly and sweetly, and save readers the trouble of having to read about the emotional downturn I went through during my second semester, I’ll just say that I failed my second economics class. The news couldn’t have come at a worse time though, as it was during my transition and unemployment in my parent’s basement, and on my birthday, I still handled it quite well. After a brief, three-day, crying jag, I was determined that I would succeed at business.

When that pipe dream’s vivid premonition faded, I re-examined and accepted my fate.

Art history seemed as good a path as any, because I like to look at pretty things, and have a natural born talent for bullshitting. My fate, it seemed, was sealed and so far it has turned out okay. Without my failure to understand the simple strategies of supply and demand, my life wouldn’t be the same. For example, now I might be able to afford to live.

Our failures, to a greater extent then our successes, define who we are. I am able to make this conclusion due to the fact that I have had limited success paired with a life full of failure. By the poolside, at the tops of snow banks, and in the lecture halls of my university, the failures of my life are important to the mixed up, confused, and stunted individual I was forced to become. Without the emotional scaring of my childhood, adolescents, and trauma of young adulthood, I wouldn’t be the person writing these words. For all I know I could have become a well-adjusted, married, and sane person who doesn’t pour out his insecurities in long-winded personal essays. And I am just not comfortable with that outcome.

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