I wonder when in my life I became less afraid of failure and more determined to not let failure stop me?
As a 15 year old, I was refusing to take algebra and willing to put a dream I’d had since (by my mother’s report) I was 3. I do remember the book my older sister used to read me about a ‘girl doctor’. I have clear pictures in my mind of the illustrations. Apparently, my first doctor (till I was almost 6) was a female and I was determined to become a doctor. First aid was my first brownie badge earned, and first girlscout badge.
I can remember being in the 4th grade, a year that bloody noses seemed to be a daily part of my life, having one bloody nose that took me to the ER in an ambulance (from school). I remember sitting on the table holding something (packing?) up to my nose and the doctor talking to me about what I’d learned since I was last seen by him. (our little community only had 3 doctors). A nurse came in and he introduced me as ‘The future Dr. Pearson’ (my maiden name). I had the full support, it seems, of the community. Everyone knew that was my goal.
Somewhere along the lines, failure became something to fear .. and by high school, it was so totally unacceptable, that it was better to not try than fail. My freshman year in high school I refused to take algebra. I took Business Math and no one said a thing. My sophomore year, it was different, I enrolled in accounting and got called into the principals office of our tiny school.
Mr G told me that algebra had to be taken my freshman or sophomore year, since I’d not taken it the year before, I must take it this year. I told him that I had no intention of ever taking algebra.
He told me that I HAD to take algebra or I’d never become a doctor.
I said “fine, I won’t become a doctor.”
He then said “But Peggi, you can’t even go to college without it”
I said “fine, take me off the college prep list” and got up and walked out of his office.
Suddenly, I went from ‘college bound’ to who knows what. I laid down my dream in that moment to become a doctor.
Fast forward 30 years and I’m suddenly looking at going back to school and knowing that algebra would be a requirement .. only not just college algebra, I’d have to take 3 semesters of algebra .. the 2 credits I did not get in high school and then college algebra.
By now, I’d understood that my fear of failure was behind my willingness to just quit a dream. The idea of failure was so distasteful to me that it was stronger than any desire to succeed.
I enrolled and gingerly went to that first class. The day of my first test, I had a panic attack that was so severe that it was visible. A professor in the nursing department grabbed me and asked if I needed an ambulance. They got me settled down and I went and took my very first dismal algebra test. I had no idea what was facing me .. but it was only the beginning.
I took the class, and failed miserably with a 45% (though the prof had mercy on my soul and put a D on the transcript). I retook with the same professor and got out with a very high A. A lot of work and repetative (as well as an AHA moment the 2nd class where things suddenly made sense) as well as a whole bunch of tutoring … left me realizing that failure can’t hurt you (well, it doesn’t feel good ..but it can’t really harm you) and it’s not the final say … and figuring that I just might have a repeat performance in intermediate algebra …
So I retook it ..and failed, retook it again and failed again .. retook it again and got a D … which was not high enough to move on. (I could go into much detail as to how this should not have been a D .. but that’s not the point of this essay …
So here I am …working hard at a 4th stab .. and knowing full well that if I don’t get it, there will be a 5th because ultimate failure isn’t an option.
My goal .. once again .. in life is to have the title of Dr before my name, granted, a PhD rather than MD ..but none the less … that’s the goal.
Funny how fearing failure once defined me and now, it charges me up, increases my determination. I’m not sure what changed in me …
But I do know that failure isn’t something to fear, be annoyed by, yes but not feared.