Mara and Failure

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I don't do so well with failure. If I think failure looms I tend to shrink from doing the task at all.

Case in point: driver's license.

In the States, at least at the time, it was typical to get one's driver's license when one turned 16. So, shortly after turning 16, I dutifully took the driver's education course at high school. Wisely, the instructor took us out to practice during the school day - when most people are safely out of harms way at work or school. The first time I got to practice in that class was literaly my first time behind the wheel (I think the others in the class really feared for their life). I remember taking a left turn not quite sharply enough. I started going into a yard instead of the street. When I realized it, I panicked and instead of hitting the brakes, I gunned it!! Fortunately, the driving instructor had a break on his side and saved the house in front of us. He just had me reverse and drive away - I always wondered about their lawn. Shouldn't I have paid for re-seeding it? The instructor didn't seem to think so.

Anyway, it was almost two full years before I got around to getting my license. I saw so many friends flunk that test - repeatedly. And I just couldn't handle it. I remember one day trying to get up the courage to make an appointment to take the test. I had to decide whether I'd take it first thing in the morning before going to school, or taking it after school. My dear sister recommended I take it after school so that I "wouldn't be depressed all day". We laugh now, but I just didn't make the appointment for like another 6 months or so. I think I see failure as a sign of weakness or inability.

I remember planning my oral exams for my master's degree. Two weeks prior to the exams for which I had been preparing for two years, they told me I had to switch one of my areas of specialty. Two years...two weeks. I asked how on earth that could be possible?!?! The response was, "well, if you flunk that area, you'll just take it again later." So, wait, let me get this straight, fo the first 22 years of my education, flunking is the most shameful and bad thing a student can do, and then after that it's normal? I chose another area and crammed (17th century drama? yeah, I read all those books in ENGLISH - shameful, but true. Fortunately, I had also done my undergraduate thesis on that era). Turned out I flunked in every area except that one, I think. Drr. But, get this, I survived. Not sure I remember too much of that stuff anymore, but I did survive. [side note: I do remember what I wore to the exams though...]

In any case, I tend to shrink from possible failure. Events, programs, opportunities, challenges - passed for fear of failure.

All this to say that I have taken on a project in which failure is nearly constant, success is in no way secured and I have absolutely no choice but to plod on. Well, I suppose I do, as always, but this time I refuse to le that be an option.

I have worked hard on building my relationship with God. Cancer in the family has, in its silver lining way, been an amazing opportunity for me to work on that and understand just how hard reliance on God can be and how useless (and stress-inducing) it is for me to try to live my life without relying on God. Now, apparently, I'm supposed to apply what I've learned. Aw, shoot. Didn't we just talk about this whole failure thing?

Oh! One final note: seeing as how I don't have a whole lot of experience at sustained failure, if anyone has suggestions on how to remain positive during my continued attempts I would happy accept them!!!

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Well, I am not sure what we're talking about here. It seems that something is bothering someone and cannot openly express anything but the fear of failure. It is a fear everyone has at most inoportune times of our daily lives. Almost always in front of family or friends or worse, like minded associates. Ooooh! To rely on God is to put something in His Trust and to let go of it acting as all your prayers have been answered. Then the fear of failure goes away to never never land or deeper into outer space with voided dust particles of nether nebulae. Reliance upon Him also means talking with Him daily about normal stuff as well as the really hardship things. I truly believe He enjoys a good joke, a heartfelt thanks for the glorious morning He just made for us.


Heh. I don't know if this is relevant but I spent the entire seven months in Gambia feeling like a failure. For the first time in my life I met someone who was truly so much smarter I am that I was unsure of how to deal with the situation. The answer was, poorly. Helen seemed like the golden child of Gambia. She was everywhere, she was bright, she was ardent, selfless, tireless (unless she was hallucinating from the lack of sleep), she was self-less, musical, artistic, and clearly favored by the community. I was, as far as I can remember, a general nuisance that needed to be put somewhere. And when I got depressed, I think I lost any sympathetic community members that I'd had.

As years of service go, I pretty much failed. I didn't fail because I was so anxious that I couldn't peform. I failed because I was overcome by the situation, completely. My defenses just ran out. But then I was given a nugget of reality. Something said to me, "You think that any of what you do here really matters? If that's what you're basing your assumptions on then you might as well go and swim to your death." "Knowledge is a single point," it said to me, "but the ignorant have multiplied it." At some point after that, I was reading the Iqan when I came across a passage discussing Muhammad moving the Qiblah from Jerusalem. 'Thus hath the Dove of holiness proclaimed: "Do men think when they say 'We believe' they shall be let alone and not be put to proof?"'

Hey Mara! Well... I'm personally facing this issue right now too. I've moved completely out of my comfort zone to a new place, where I am trying to prove that I can act. And I'm failing miserably! I know it's all a learning experience, and if I step back, whether I succeed or fail doesn't really matter, as long as I am learning and moving forward. But when you're in the midst of it all, it doesn't feel really good! So I'm just trying to rely on my friends and my faith to keep things okay. I've chosen a path that inevitably will have lots of failure. So I have to stay positive :) I hope you can do the same.


Working in sales, I learned that you don't win them all, but then you don't lose them all either. It's important not to think of these things as "failures" they're just outcomes, some positive, some not so positive, most have a kind of ambiguous end that cannot be judged either way...seriously, what is a failure? would you say someone who tried their hardest and did a great job, but didn't succeed at some MONUMENTAL task that you would take on had "failed"? what then if it was a minor task? what if they tried their hardest but couldn't do a great job? I think the tendency is to see our own faults and poor experiences as failures, even though we would not see the same in others.

Life is all about trying, and although you can't fail if you don't try, you'll neither win, nor know your possibilities, limits, or hidden strengths if you don't try. Failing to try your best may be the only failure that matters.

oops, I hit tab too soon.

I was going to add that in selling things it is really easy to end at ONE "no". You ask the customer if they want something, and their reaction effects how you believe they will answer. You ask them if they want to buy one thing and after a rejection you feel as if asking them to buy something else will only lead to rejection again. But I've learned that that is the worst thing for a salesperson to buy into. You must believe in the end result. You must know that just because the customer doesn't want one thing, doesn't mean they don't NEED another. They don't want the guarantee? That doesn't mean they won't need sheets or tables, or lamps, or a rug. Not only that, but when they say "no" to the guarantee, why did they say so? Is there some reason that they don't want the product? Price--can you show them how it's worth it? They don't think they will need it--can you find out why that is, and show how even in their situation it would be worthwhile? "NO" can be seen as a rejection, but it is only showing that there is some hesitancy for some reason, it doesn't mean things cannot continue to be discussed, and it doesn't mean you can't ask again in some other way. If you are going to be rejected, why not try a few more ways? The worse that can happen is more "no" responses, and that doesn't make anyone like you less, or want to walk out the door. Asking the question is asking for rejection, and taking a risk, but it is also the only way to know what possible objections they may have.

So how does all this selling stuff apply to life? Well, going after the NO, or facing those ojections repeatedly everyday does help me know the limit/unlimted scope of interaction with other people.
-I'm better able to take advantage of the human resources around me. I'm not afraid of asking complete strangers for what may in my mind be too much to ask. The worst that can happen is they say NO, the best that can happen is unlimited.
-I'm also not focused on one rejection as a greater part of the whole. It allows me to both see other people and myself in a different way. It's similar to the whole "seeing only the good qualities" thing, but it's really about interaction, that simply because I can't be one thing, or someone else is something, doesn't limit other possibilites for our interaction and success.

I guess that's about all...sorry so long, but I feel like a "failure" spin specialist ;)

Thank you to everyone who commented (here or email). This boost will send me right back in there trying. And thanks, Val. You're absolutely right - if another person were in my position failure wouldn't even come to mind as a description of their situation!

Better do it than wish it done

It only goes to show where theres will theres a way. Keep on trying. I have bad reflexes. I was once run over by a car being pushed by two guys. Woody Allen Born 1935

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Just proves the old adage. Its an ill wind that blows no good. When I was kidnapped, my parents snapped into action. They rented out my room. Woody Allen Born 1935

I've been there, I have thrown the butt and said to myself biodegradable what the heck, it's much easier than putting it in the ash tray. The next step is the sweet wrapper,the cigarette packet, the burger wrapper, I progressed to tax evasion instead of avoidance, smuggle instead of import, steal instead of buy,drive drunk instead of taxi.

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This page contains a single entry by Mara published on March 31, 2006 2:55 PM.

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