Tuesday, February 23, 2010

That great big fear of the F-word: Failure.

I have rather poor vision.  I was gifted my first pair of prescription glasses in the seventh grade.  I put them on at the beginning of homeroom the next day, only to learn that our Tech Ed. teacher had passed away that morning.  It was a very disheartening way to begin a life with glasses.

But I did not begin a life with glasses.  Instead, I went quite blind for the next ten years because I thought glasses dorkified my entire look (ah, silly me. Now I find glasses beautifully chic).  In high school hallways, I would see fairly recognizable figures approach me, perhaps waving.  And perhaps I would wave back - until I came within about eight feet of them and realized they were perfect strangers attempting only to wave at the person behind me - and now giving me odd looks.  This happened many times, so I began ignoring people until they were at close range.  This resulted in lots of "are you ignoring me?" questions and frankly, quite a bit of drama (I'm sure we all remember high school).  College I walked around blind as a bat, sitting near the front of the class if I cared to see, sitting in the back if I would prefer everything to be a blur.  (Biology was, in fact, an entire semester of blurriness.  It is quite a miracle I passed).  Living in a blur was a bit befuddling, to say the least.  I always wore my glasses to drive - that would have been quite hazardous.  I took my glasses with me to the movie theatre.  I once saw Jane Austin without my glasses.  It was an entirely different movie when I rented it at home six months later.

My vision slowly decreased, as these things do, although the change was, as I said, slow, so I really didn't notice much.  I bought new glasses at the beginning of my senior year of college, a pair that have plagued me with perpetual crookedness.  This, of course, made me even more adverse to ever wearing glasses in public - unless alone in my vehicle or seated in a dark movie theatre.  Yet near the end of my senior year, my sister made the brave decision to try contact lenses.  I, being the complete wuss that I am, was terrified of contacts.  Like everyone says, the thought of touching my eye concerned me quite a bit.  Yet my younger sister began proudly sporting contacts everywhere she went.  She was no longer plagued with the, "oh hey!... oh, not you" wave we had both done quite too frequently to strangers.  She could sit in a brightly lit classroom or a dimly lit theatre and see perfectly well in either.  She could see - anywhere, anytime, without glasses.  And so, rather impulsively (for me), I decided that if my younger sister could do it, so could I.  And I got contacts.

It seems really silly looking back at how many years I lived without contacts.  I love them.  I love, love, love them.  I can see!  It is really incredible being able to stand on my back deck and actually see the yard, or to walk into a building and be able to see each room number, or, most importantly, to recognize faces from great distances.  It really is incredible - and it amazes me that I missed out on so much.  And honestly, now that I have adjusted to seeing at about 20/20, I have no clue how I managed to get around so blindly.

I had my annual eye doctor appointment last week.  I was a year overdue.  I wore my perpetually crooked glasses to the exam, popping them off for the vision test.  The chart was familiar - beginning with a gigantic E.  Yet when the doctor asked me what that gigantic E was, I was shocked - no, mortified, that I couldn't read it.  It was a blob - much more similar to an uppercase C than an E, but memory told me the letter was E.  "E," I announced.  "Ok, and the next line?"  I stumbled through a pitiful guessing game, the doctor making "mmm" noises after each of my sad attempts at deciphering letters.  "J?" "mmm" "L?" "mmm" "H?  Wait, no M!"  "mmmhmmm" (so is that right or wrong then?).  It was quite sad - and rather humiliating, although I wasn't exactly sure why I was humiliated.  Is it the fact that I felt silly trying to guess letters that he could clearly see?  Or is it just that we don't like to look wrong in front of others?  Vision is in no way tied with intelligence, yet I felt as if I was failing a test - as if I was saying, "Ah ha, I'm an idiot and I have no idea what any of your letter lines say - now take these silly goggles off of me and just fail me already!"  It was a strange feeling.  And then, miraculously, he was called out of the room.  I quickly turned and looked at his little cheat screen and began hurriedly memorizing letter lines.  EDFCZP, EDFCZP, EDFCZP.  I got this!  He came back in, I leaned up to those goggles, switched to my right eye, and rattled off the letters.  "EDFCZP," I said proudly.  "mmm."  He typed something, and then said, "and the next?"  Well, the next was as blurry as EDFCZP had been, so I was forced to admit defeat.  He began typing furiously (probably writing an email to his wife for all I know) as I came to terms with the fact that I had just cheated on an eye exam.  Who cheats on an eye exam?  That's absolutely ridiculous!  I am so terrified of 'failing' and being 'wrong' that I cheated on the one thing that I could in no way do well on without outside help.  I can force math into my brain, I can train my body to win a race, and I can memorize all the most important dates through history - but I cannot make my vision any better.  I felt, well, quite ridiculous and rather defeated as my eye doctor lectured me on the sins of wearing eye liner and showering with my contacts in.  

Well, I was given a new prescription and sent on my merry way - blinder than when I had arrived due to the dilation drops.  As I sat at home, waiting for the dilation to wear off and gnawing on an over-buttered bagel, I thought more on this fear of failure.  I think many of us are afraid to fail, be it failing at love, failing in our career, failing a test or class, or even failing an eye exam.  This fear has been quite amplified for me lately.  I am absolutely petrified of failing my capstone - the final thesis paper that will determine if I become Master Brooke or not.  This fear has me almost deadlocked - I haven't been able to do anything aside from research.  I know that it is only a fear holding me back, yet each time I go to pull up the word document with my essay in it this overwhelmingly huge feeling of dread drips down over my shoulders and I end up returning to the research instead.  Aside from that rather realistic fear, I am also petrified of somehow failing at being a teacher.  My new class is going well.  But I am afraid.  I am scared that somehow I will fail them.  Perhaps I won't teach them enough, or I won't teach them the right way.  Perhaps they will come out of my course feeling just as ambivalent towards or scared of or hateful for writing as they did when they began the class.  Or perhaps I will fail, as I did today.  When as we were going over the grammar homework my class discovered that I had gotten one of the answers to the homework wrong - which was quite embarrassing (although I was glad they were so on-their-toes about it).  Driving home, I kept asking myself how I had managed to get a grammar problem wrong - and then teach it to them wrong.  I felt as if I had failed them - I had shown all the cards in my hand.  Yup, I'm teaching college English and I'm not a grammar expert - you guys figured me out.  But as I debated with myself back and forth over it during my thirty minute drive home, I began telling myself that perhaps I had not failed them at all, but simply shown them that grammar is difficult - and we all make mistakes.  Even those of us who are supposed to be the teachers sometimes get things wrong too, and that, I decided, doesn't mean we have failed at all, but simply that we are still learning too.  And isn't it only human to be wrong - to sometimes admit defeat?  Failing becomes learning - and if you never try, you never learn.  And perhaps that is the most important thing I took away from my class today.  I can only hope my students walked away with just as useful of a lesson.

Eye chart image copyright Felicia Eye Chart.


Yani said...

hahaha! i also cheated on an eye exam once and it rather humiliating too! LOL!

like you, i'm blind as a bat without my contact lenses. I used contacts most of the day but when I'm home, I wear my glasses.

Anyhoo, I agree with you about that fear of failing. i mean who would really want to come out as a failure right?

Be optimistic and believe in what you can do. I'm sure you're gonna ace that thesis papers of yours.

Good Luck and Have a nice day!

Brooke said...

Yani, I am SO GLAD to know I'm not the only one who has cheated on an eye exam!! When I told my fiance, he had a good laugh and then pointed out how good his vision was (thanks, buddy!) - so I'm glad you can relate :)

Thanks for the kind words and advice :) I really appreciate it!

Stephanie said...

I can't relate to the Masters capstone because I'm not that highly educated yet. But I can tell you that in order to get my bachelors I had to write a very substantial thesis, at least for the undergraduate level. I was terrified of it (and failing) as well. The whole process scared me. When I was pitching my idea to professors to try to get myself an advisor I felt like I was asking them to prom or something. I got through it, shockingly, and you will too. And you'll be great :)

jellynat said...

I'm wearing glasses for my myopy since age 12 and I smiled in sympathy when you said you cheated at eye exam. It's both cute and completely absurd. It never crossed my mind to do this, and yet I'm a weird mind. I wanted to wear contact but I have dry eyes so I'm stuck with glasses for the rest of my life. It gives me that distant and particular ignoring charm in summer when I rock the sunglasses but that I see nothing of what happen around me, ah ah!


Now for the second part.... You remember that Homer Simpson quote? "Trying is the first step toward failure" Forget about it. It's not true. :)
In general everything goes more or less well in this life if we keep faith in ourselves. And even if you fail, then life go on and you learn from it - so it's not completely a failure. I've had teachers who made mistakes at school and I point them out to them. I've made huge mistakes at work. So did many people I know. It's like that. We're human, we're not perfect machines and everybody knows it. I don't think anyone is expecting you not to be a normal human person. I hope you can go over this fear, Brooke. I hope you can relax toward life and flows of event (and achieve your thesis). The horrible side of a fear is that in general, it is bringing you directly where you're afraid to go. Kick that fear in the butt and don't let it paralyzing you. Gain self confidence. Relax. Believe and have trust in yourself! =)

Brooke said...

hahaha, Stephanie, that's hilarious :) I'm meeting with a professor tomorrow to (try to) convince him to be on my thesis committee and I have been SO ANXIOUS about it! Good to know I'm not the only one! Thanks for your advice and thoughtful words :)

Brooke said...

Jellynat - I agree, totally absurd to try to cheat on an eye exam! 'Absurd' is just the word I was looking for and couldn't locate too. I've grown into loving glasses - I'm getting a new pair soon and I'm actually really excited about it. Glad you know how to rock your glasses and sunglasses :)

As for the second part - Thank You!! Thanks for the thoughtful quote, the great words of wisdom, and most of all, for the vote of confidence. I think of myself as a pretty confident person, yet there are those things - failure being one of them - that just totally trip me up. I appreciate that you understand, and thanks for the great advice :D

Rebecca said...

I totally agree with the whole "failure leads to success" thing. I spent the whole of last year failing in my training year, but I eventually managed to learn from my mistakes and I think that has made me a better teacher and a better person all round!

Good luck with your thesis!

I can't sympathise with the sight thing though, I've not had to have glasses yet! Sorry :p

jo.frougal said...

Your grandma's hands look too young to be that of a 70-year-old, much less a, uhm, 71-yr-old?
I welcomed my eyeglasses back when I was a kid because I liked feeling that i could hide behind it. Maybe I'm just really, truly dorky that way, lol.
But there's an upside -- I wear contacts now and most people I used to know back in college are taken aback by how 'beautiful' I am now... simply because they remember me with these huge, thick eyeglasses.
Course I wear makeup now, and have grown in confidence, too. Maybe I have less to hide now, lol.

Mighty Lambchop said...

Oh my goodness. This is just what I needed. I've been feeling so down and my confidence has been shot because of my work drama. Good for you for finding something positive in all of this. I will endeavour to do the same. ;)

P.S. No more cheating on your eye exam!

Krafty Kelsey said...

Yeah cheating on the eye exam didn't work out too well for me last year... My prescription didn't change, but my eyesight definitely has! What I hate about those tests is that they're so chance-y, you can guess the right letter without actually being able to see it. Have they made a machine yet that can just read your eyes and determine your prescription?

~Elizabeth aka Lacquered Lizard said...

Great post. So many of us, myself included, have either a perfectionist streak, fear of success (masked as fear of failure) or, as my life coach/friend termed it: a saboteur.
We are our own worst enemy rather than our own biggest fan.
I try to beat that by asking myself: what would my future self (the one already rockin' the goal I've set) do when I "show up" and do that thing I need to do? Usually, my future self is cheering and smiling...and that's all I need to move forward.
The problem now is to remember that little scenario! LOL

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