Saturday, November 2, 2013

Learning From Failure

I constantly disappoint myself. But this week, two ways stand out: 1) I didn't research the fee waivers the College Board gave me far enough in advance to know that I can't use them for all schools and 2) I let group pressures keep me from defending someone who was being spoken ill of.

My motto is "Fear complacency" but I get complacent so very, very easily. I think arrogantly that I'm ahead of the curve of some things so I get behind the curve on other things. And just because I read and enjoyed Thus Spake Zarathustra does not mean that I am immune to peer pressure.

I'm thinking of adopting another motto, or rather stealing it from the University of Rochester. Meliora: ever better. Last time I had a volunteering event I took along an index card with Meliora written on it and wrote down all the things I could have done better. I'm wondering if it would be worthwhile doing that every day.

What can I do to learn from and improve upon my mistakes?

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Yesterday, the Teal Knight was acting drum major since the current drum major is in the pit orchestra for the musical. I was TK's acting assistant, along with last year's drum major (about whom I wonder: does even he feel the impostor syndrome at times? It seems impossible, and yet...). Last year's drum major provided advice on timing and coordination with the cheerleaders; I provided moral support.

Sidenote: I wonder why "moral support" is considered useless. When a group is working on something, the people on the sidelines are often referred to as the moral support, with the implication that that's not useful. But I do think that it's necessary. Moral support is a definite thing, a positive, in opposition to moral destruction (I'm going to coin a better term, I swear).

My form of moral support: "This is an iterative process. You're doing just fine."

TK is sharp: "Next week I won't make the same mistakes. Maybe I'll make different mistakes, and then I'll fix those the time after that."
"Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better." - Samuel Beckett
What do I need to learn from failure?

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Tangible things: an index card titled "Meliora"? A friend saying, "It's okay, you're going to fix this next time"? Definitely: time and space and silence to reflect.

So. Here is that space, here is that time.

I want to talk more about the second failure (learning from the first was easy - I just emailed all my RD schools to ask, directly, if they would accept the fee waiver). Without getting too much into the backstory, I was with a group of people that until last evening - or rather night, when I was thinking about my failure - I would have called my friends. They started to talk trash about an underclassmen who can be somewhat irritating at times, and who is a few standard deviations away from normal. A solitary, eclectic soul.

And I said nothing to defend him.

I am still in shock at the realization that I am not as brave as I thought I was - that I am in fact a coward. That because I liked the people with whom I ate dinner, that because I wanted them to like me, that because they are more normal than me and cooler and more social - that for all these stupid reasons, I let my sense of morality fall by the wayside.

I did not participate in their trashtalk, but I was silent and, as Elie Wiesel says, "We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented." I am every bit as culpable as the person who brought up the subject.

Go up two paragraphs and notice my use of the past tense. "I liked the people...", "I wanted them to like me…"

I did that deliberately. I am not sure I dislike them, because trashtalk is something that everyone does in high school and I can't hold my friends - are they my friends? My brain stuttered as I typed the word - to a higher standard than that to which I hold myself. Okay. I still like these people.

But I don't know if I want them to like me. Or rather, I know that I'm not willing to do anything to make them like me.

I found these two posts this morning, and wish I'd found them a day earlier: It Is Okay to Say No, by Amy Sundberg, and Boundaries, by Jim Hines.

I wrote two weeks ago about why I don't care about high school. I regret sounding so self-congratulatory in that post because I've realized that the circle of people about whose opinions I care is still too large.

What criteria will allow people into that influential circle? I think I need to start by kicking everyone out and then incorporating people back in, one by one, based on how they affect them, based on how being around them affects me. Paraphrasing Marcus: if it makes you break promises, lose self-respect, hate, suspect, lie, etc., then it isn't good for you.

If being around someone influences me to break promises, to lose self-respect, to hate, to suspect, to lie, or to be unkind, then that person is ineligible for inclusion in the "matters to me" circle.

Sidenote: Hold up, I need to qualify that. People can matter to me without their opinions mattering to me. I don't ill-wish many people, but just wanting someone to be okay doesn't mean that I want their approval.

Who influences me for good? Around whom am I the better version of myself? I can already think of one person, unquestionably: the Teal Knight. I was her mentor last year, maybe even this year?, and I know she thinks well of me and I want to preserve that.

Then, a way forward:

  • make that index card. It's dorky and self-help-ish, but who knows? If it's not okay to help yourself, then whom is it okay to help?
  • reevaluate who your actual friends are. Who makes you a better person? That's a selfish way of looking at people, but I'm in a reactionary phase and I am giving myself permission to be as selfish as I need to be
  • get perspective. People say to live in the moment but when I do that's when I make my worst moral mistakes, when I misstep, when I let friends go on about some guy who isn't there to defend himself. I think it might help if there was one part of my brain that stood one step outside of me at all times, looking down and saying, "Is that the best you can do?"


I'm sure that I'm still going to screw up. That I'm going to do or say or not do or not say things that are going to make me come home and wallow in misery and self-loathing. But hopefully I can make new mistakes, better mistakes, and fix those, and continue, ever as a WIP, ever under construction of a self that will not shame me.

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In My Remains - Linkin Park - piano version by Nate Jakubowski

(Bonus: listen with RainyMood in the background. A tip from LS.)

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