DEV Community

Cover image for The Power of Waiting To Fail

Posted on

The Power of Waiting To Fail

Image description
Photo by Brett Jordan
From an early age I grew up in an environment where hoping for something more was merely waiting to have those same hope come crashing down to the reality of a situation. Whether it was hoping for some nebulous theological figure to swoop down like Q from Star Trek Voyager and change my homelife, or hoping for something different for dinner than canned vegetables and white rice, each was just begging for quick dose of reality to dash such childish delusions. I learned to move forward even when the possibility of not moving forward was always there, to swim hard against an even harder current even when you might never gain a foot more of space towards the shore. I learned to keep going even when all the odds seemed unlikely. I learned to wait to fail and still succeed.

One of my first days of clinical I remember vividly. I was 17 about to turn 18 and waiting at the nurse’s station with all my other classmates, slightly worried they would find out I was underage, slightly worried they would sense I didn’t fit in among all the adults. And one of my fellow clinical students leaned in and said “You seem so calm and collected always, how do you do it?” He meant it seriously with a slight wistful tone to his voice. Inside I was turmoil. I was sure I would fail. Never mind I had the highest grades in class, never mind I had nearly memorized the textbook. Never mind that most of the clinical experience was easy and rote, I had set in my mind I would fail but I would keep trying anyway.

It was an exercise I was well versed in, the first time I opened an algebra book and began teaching myself algebra. I am going to fail but that’s okay. Once I had said my little mantra I could continue, from driving lessons on ice glazed gravel roads with a madman for an instructor, to my first terrified day as a new grad nurse on the floor with life in my 19 year old hands. I am going to fail but that’s okay. Day after day, experience after experience this still played in my heads. A sort of permission for not being great enough to succeed and yet also pushing me ahead because failure was not an option.

The duality was striking even to myself. My only hope of moving past my tumultuous and torturous homellife for myself was my success. The permission I gave myself was merely a self soothing act, like giving yourself a hug. You could feel it was your arms around you and it didn’t do much but maybe you felt slightly better. It was a lie I told myself to not implode from the crushing pressure. I could not fail. I had to succeed at all costs. Staying up late for hours and hours and days to get the grade. Getting perfect grades on every test, teaching myself ACT prep, graduating high school at every cost. I was like an athlete running in the Olympics and the Olympics was my life.

Everything began an internal competition with myself. And still I soothed myself with the life. I am going to fail but that’s okay. It was less soothing with every passing day. It was not enough to be great I had to be the best. A+ in class, and yet still asking the professor for extra credit assignments. Final grade in class and 96% but wait there is a mistake it should be 98% for the final grade; did it matter when both grades got the coveted A+? A calculus professor, said something that was a slight scabbed picked off the wound I covered so deftly all my life. “Perfection will be the death of you”. He was prone to such glib phrases, equal parts truth and careless. He had a certain way of saying things coupled with truth and also slightly scathing. It was very apropos I gave him a mug that said “Tears of your students” the last day of his series of class, he laughed. I was amused. That day I had been slightly peeved at the comment he said, but it stuck. Perfection was the death of me.

It was just a few years ago that something changed. Some would say a near death experience, but lying there I didn’t feel worried about dying but more so irritated that my limbs wouldn’t move, irritated that I had classes to finish and couldn’t do some more homework that night. And finally days later, irritated that what once made sense no longer did. It was more than JavaScript and servers and integration testing, it was my life. I was working one of the most stressful jobs I have ever had for an employer that didn’t care, working a second job and going to school for a post bacc degree that I came to my senses. Why? What goal was I trying to achieve? What silent approval was I hoping to get? What was the point in always waiting to fail?

Slowly I started unraveling a of learned pessimism. I always joked “I was pessimistic until there was something to be optimistic about“. And after so many years of nothing or little to be optimistic about, things changed and I failed to recognize it.

I had choices, and so many options. Not a need to just survive but I could also thrive. I didn’t have to accept failure, I didn’t have to fight for perfection. I could just be. And with that I was able to say no and start finding what I really wanted to do and what suited me. I was able to step into the unknown, take changes and finally exhale a breath I had been holding in since I first cried out at a strange cold world over 20 years ago.

I would like to say I don’t wait to fail anymore that I don’t tell myself it’s okay. But I do, but this time it’s more like a permission to live. Getting a 4.0 isn’t so important the 4th time around, getting all A’s is something desired but not a game changer. Walking away from places, people, jobs, life situations, even family and friends that don’t suit you is something that is required not optional.

It’s in our flaws that we find our greatest strengths and that is the exquisite beauty of life.

As I move forward in life and career I am reminded of the power of failure. It’s okay to fail on the path to success and truly in trying and not always reaching the mark I have learned more than anything that ever came perfectly. It’s in our flaws that we find our greatest strengths and that is the exquisite beauty of life

Top comments (0)