I had a post all lined up but instead I thought I’d confess something: I have a bad relationship with failure.
Not so uncommon. I mean, who likes to fail? My problem is the way I deal with failure or even potential failure. It isn’t that I bury my head in the sand; I know if I’m messing up and how, and generally what I might do to fix it, but I hate asking for help.
I don’t like being seen to fail. I think it all goes back to my school days, back when TV was in black and white and dinosaurs roamed the Earth (as I tell the kids I work with). I was an awkward, lumpy teenager with crooked teeth and a bizarre sense of humour. I wasn’t necessarily bullied or disliked (except by the one bully who was nasty to everyone indiscriminately) but I was teased a bit and it was no secret that most of my year group thought I was a massive weirdo. And probably a lesbian.
I wasn’t that sporty (though I did play on the school netball team for four years) and I wasn’t a class clown. I wasn’t really rich and I hadn’t really been anywhere interesting or exciting. I couldn’t show off or be noticed for any of those things. Luckily, I was pretty intelligent. For every class I was in that was separated by ability – most things apart from technology, RE, art… – I was in the top section. Not always the best in the set (I hated maths but natural ability kept my head above water) but usually in the top 5. English and French were my favourite subjects.
It should be no surprise that I was considered a bit of a swot. Expectations were high. I chose to take Drama as an exam course and one boy in my class directly asked me if I shouldn’t be doing business studies or something instead. Most were taking it as a doss subject or were the pets of the Drama teacher (last year accused of indecent contact with pupils, incidentally) but for me it was a companion to English and to Textiles, the technology subject I had chosen for my certificate course. Textiles was basically sewing. “Home Ec” or “Domestic Science” was sort of split by then into Food Technology (Cooking and Nutrition – many calorie tables later…) and Textiles Technology (Sewing and ironing). I enjoyed the acting in my weird, lumpy way, but I did like designing costumes for the school production and helping to make them.
It wasn’t that I didn’t place any value on “non-academic” subjects like the school version of Art and Music. I deeply admire people with artistic talent and am insanely jealous of them. I was mediocre at both Art and Music, and the one thing I really wish I could do is draw. I’m quite good at visualising and at making a model or product based on my thought-design, but I can’t draw. I can’t make the picture in my head come out onto paper as it should be.
Anyway, rambling again… Right. Failure. As I went through school and sixth form, the pressure I put on myself to perform well intensified. Being a swot was my Thing. It was what I did. If I wasn’t the geeky one with good grades, who was I? So I became increasingly anxious when there was something I wasn’t good at or couldn’t do. Like the coursework section of my A Level courses. I totally understand the need for coursework. Some people flip out in exams and completely crash even if they knew the answers before they walked in the door. Coursework lets people show they do know what they’re doing without the pressure of a PASS/FAIL in TWO HOURS situation. Trouble is, I need the pressure. Give me two months to do something and I can guarantee it’ll be done, but done in the week – or days – before the deadline.
The Geology department were not that strict on checking our coursework progress. They reminded us of deadlines and occasionally supervised us in the lab when we were recording data but they left us to it for the most part. I slacked off. The Psychology department (yeah, I took diverse A Levels) took a step-by-step approach and gave us structured deadlines for each section of our coursework. That was good; there was a bit of pressure and the teachers had a better idea of who was keeping up and who needed help. I kept up.
My Geology coursework was two days late. My Psychology coursework was bang on time.
Interestingly, I came out with a B in both subjects. The difference being, I suspect, that in Psychology I was generally good overall and In Geology I aced the exam and that pulled my mark up.
I knew, KNEW, I was struggling with the Geology coursework. I knew I was behind and letting a mountain of data analysis and hours upon hours of spreadsheet work build up. Every day it haunted me. Did I ask for help? Nope. Did I confess my awful crime? Nope. Did I, in fact, lie and say it was done when it wasn’t? Oh, yes.
In my head (and I know it’s wrong but this is how my brain works) I had developed a very black and white policy on success. Success and swottiness were the ultimate goals. Failure was weakness. Failure meant people laughing and judging. If I admitted I needed help, my whole persona and identity would come crashing down. If there was one thing I truly hated, it was being laughed at. I think that says more about the way I judge others, really. Sorry. I do admire the ability to be comfortable advertising your crapness. I am someone who is Good At Things. Admitting that I wasn’t good at something academic was to reveal that my whole self was a lie. People would tear me apart. Teachers would scorn me. Worse, people would mutter “But this is really easy! How can she not do/understand/solve this?” and I would be ASHAMED. A shame completely out of proportion to the problem.
So I let it snowball until there was no helping me regardless because it was too late and suffered the consequences.
To this day I find it very difficult to ask for help. I would rather suffer quietly and worry and cry and get angry with myself for being stupid than to simply ask someone. Of course everyone has difficulty with something. It’s OK to need help. I know that. I am better than I used to be. But I still can’t shake the feeling that if I say “Sorry, can you just go over that again?” or “I don’t know the answer” or “I’m struggling with this, actually” that people will think I’m incompetent. I have been trusted with a task and I have betrayed that trust by being unable to complete it independently.
The best bit about this of course is that I work with children. I have to show them that it’s OK to need help sometimes. So I sort of allow myself to fail on purpose for educational purposes… yeah… that’s that I’m doing… *shifty eyes*
Have a good weekend being successful! Or not! That’s fine, too! (I’m already judging you…)