If Failure Don’t Hurt

…because failure is a part of it all. And if failure don’t hurt, then failure don’t work, anymore.
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I liked school pre-2002, and school liked me. We got along well and I never lost sleep over exams or their results because I didn’t have to: pretty grades wanted me. My work ethic sucked and my procrastination methods included writing tests for my classmates, only including facts I already knew. I didn’t try hard and came to expect a chuffed-worthy result.
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And then my family immigrated to Australia taking 14-year old me with them. A bunch of probably more important things happened, but my world was ensnared in the bubble of depression*. The school assessments changed from exams only in South Africa, to big assignments and wee little tests. A lot more focus was put on research in Australia but I had only developed memory recall. My grades took a sharp decline. But it was ok, I said, because I didn’t care anyway. At this stage, failure to me was anything less than 70-75% and I continually ‘failed’ while passing through school. It didn’t hurt. I didn’t cry. There was no damage to my self-esteem because when I said I didn’t care, I meant it. I considered not caring as a protective mechanism and damn, it worked bloody well.
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Then something happened. It was 2012, and I was in my last semester of a MSc in Development Practise (International Development). I chose a courageously idiotic elective, figuring I may as well exploit all the learning opportunities I could from my last stint in tertiary/higher education. While my other courses had been in community development and politics of the same, this course was economics; not convinced I’d recommend it. The classes may as well have been an a spontaneously made up language and the readings required a lot of wikipedia. Because no one spoke in our tutorial, the tutor enforced a rule that each student should bring a prepared question. I love asking questions. So I would ask a lot of them. All my questions, however, were asked before the tutorial started: how was your weekend? how is your researching coming long? any more requests for your old book to be published again? I scraped the dregs from the quality-of-question barrel each week before the class started. But it worked. My tutor would go around the class, answering questions I didn’t understand, and then skip me because ‘you’ve already asked a question’. Crafty, huh? It worked every time.
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Craftiness only gets you so far though. When I submitted my assignment, I arranged a meeting with the old man. Never mind my intention to highlight my difficulties with dignity and propose withdrawing from the course, I ended up a sobbing heartbroken soul in his office chair. Of course, because of my amazing question-asking-ability, the precious thing had no idea I had been struggling so. I begged him to allow me to drop out despite the pain of only graduating in another six months and my two part-time jobs needing me more. My self-esteem had whittled. Failure leaned its heavy weight on my shoulder: it wasn’t just imminent, it had already arrived. And it promised to be a glorious display of defeat. This time, it wasn’t a case of not working hard. I had neglected other courses to focus my attention on this one, and why? to exploit all the learning opportunities I could. Darn it. It hurt, it ripped, it stabbed and throbbed. No counsellor could soothe it and nobody seemed to understand it.

It was amazing.

I was distraught but ironically felt that life was fuller, as if I had finally jumped aboard the vehicle of the living. The reason it hurt was because I cared. I was invested in, and had sacrificed (along with friends and family – sorry!) to do this course. I had thrown myself into the some bizarre economic world and cared when I was drowning. If failure don’t hurt, then failure don’t work anymore. I had tried to protect myself by mitigating my level of care, and while it reduced the pain, I don’t remember learning anything from my high school experience. Or from the subject matter. What a waste.

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* My experience of depression was a gift, and will feature in an entry or two on a more sombre date. Yesterday’s first blog ‘launch’ on Facebook has made me too happy to write about it today.

[side note] My tutor thought my withdrawal from the course was not necessary, not yet. Moments after our meeting, I received an email:

Just marked your assignment. You got 20.

Out of 100? I replied. I was not sure where that 20 percent had come from. I hadn’t understood the question when I submitted the assignment. 20% was more than I was expecting; I guess I had underestimated the marks title and reference pages could give me. Perhaps he had appreciated my syntax?

Out of 40.

The man was craftier than me. There is no way he could have found 50% of value in it.

I didn’t end up withdrawing. The latter assessment was a take-home exam which seemed suspiciously easy and thanks to weighting of the assessments towards the exam, I received a surprised distinction at the end of the course.

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