I have never been good at failing. As a child, if I was dissatisfied with my handwriting, I would spend hours and hours practicing, using up page after page of paper. When I began to struggle during my figure skating lessons, I simply quit. Any time I thought I might fail,
I avoided the task entirely.
Then I went to college. At 13, that took some doing: some of the administration didn’t want me there, and my biological father tried to convince the family courts that I didn’t belong there. I learned that I couldn’t run away from failure, I just had to try my best. If I felt I couldn’t get an A on an assignment even if I gave it my best, then I would procrastinate, and then cry because I knew if I had started sooner, it would be better. If I am so smart, why can’t I __________?
Starting college so young was a mixed blessing, because I believed that if I could do that, then I could do anything. I could get a job; I could live on my own; I could remember to put my laundry in the washing machine. When my room was a mess and my mom wanted for me to scoop the kitty litter, I cried because I had failed to have a clean room and I had failed to provide a clean toilet for the cats. If I am so smart, why can’t I __________?
Almost seven years later, I have just finished my Master’s degree, thesis included. I have a job teaching online in my field (environmental sciences), and I’m working towards a career in politics. People tell me I am successful and an inspiration.
Yet I still cannot remember to do laundry, and I beg my dad to clean up cat puke for me. I have a job that I love, teaching a series of classes that my students love and that fill up with returning students every semester, but surely I only received it because my mom is my boss’ boss? I’m good for the organization’s bottom line, but would anyone else hire me? If I am so smart, why can’t I __________?
I’m not a real adult, I still live with my parents. I don’t have a full-time job. I fear I will never live on my own, because I cannot maintain a liveable environment for myself. I feel I will never be pretty, because I will never be a size 6.
It’s called Imposter Syndrome, and it makes me feel like a failure.
But what is failure, but an inability to meet an expectation? Is it still failure if the expectations were set by someone else, or by society? Is it still failure if the expectations are unrealistic? Who decides what is and is not realistic?
I’ve learned to set realistic expectations for myself. I don’t fail my own goals very often anymore; but when I do, I curl up in a ball and have a panic attack. Some days society’s expectations weigh more heavily on me than other days, though; and on those days I have failed, I will never be good enough, I cannot meet those expectations.
And so I move forward, I keep readjusting my self-expectations, and I keep crying on the days that I fail; and as I cry, I do my best to learn, so I don’t make the same mistakes next time. But ultimately, I will never be perfect, and so I will keep failing. So maybe the mistake I’m really making is thinking of failure as an ultimate end, rather than a learning opportunity.