“Keep on beginning and failing. Each time you fail, start all over again, and you will grow stronger until you have accomplished a purpose – not the one you began with perhaps, but one you’ll be glad to remember.” -Anne Sullivan
One of the most difficult passages in life is moving through the times when we try with all our might and fail anyway. It can turn your heart into a rock and make you not want to care. It makes our defenses grow solid without warning, because our self worth is at stake. Something vital inside feels like it shrinks away from us; trying again feels like a set up. The raw courage to come back to this place and start again is perhaps the biggest win of all.
Accepting failure in our attempts to succeed, seeing them as the necessary steps to learning how to achieve requires not only maturity but humility in large doses. The line between humility and loss of self esteem is fuzzy in adolescence, and maybe even in adulthood. Maintaining dignity in the face of failure is an inside job where few of us have had much education.
I am witnessing this struggle at home, as my son who has been accustomed to success in school is finding his best efforts met with failing grades. The work load from middle school to high school seems way out of proportion, as if the preceding school did not prepare him at all. The expectations of a couple of his teachers are so high that it is not a reach, it is a leap that is required. I knew this when I heard the Honors English teacher speak at open school night.
I tell him that the grade doesn’t matter, the learning does. I tell him that it is OK to drop the class and take a regular English class. I tell him that I have so much respect for his courage to keep trying. He gets impatient with me as I try to move him towards a positive view. I cannot bring him on that journey, it is an inner passage he has to negotiate himself.
He understands better than me what Abraham Maslow wrote on the subject: “One’s only rival is one’s own potentialities. One’s only failure is failing to live up to one’s own possibilities. In this sense, every man can be a king, and must therefore be treated like a king.” It is not easy to become the best version of our selves and the effort deserves homage.