“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” Winston Churchill
“My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure.” Abraham Lincoln
My first experience riding a horse was at a friend’s birthday party (I was probably about 7 or 8 at the time). I was placed on a horse and told to hang on for the short trail ride that would follow. I remember being unsure about being on such a large animal, but my mind could not think of a cleaver way to avoid the situations, so I instead decided just to endure it. The ride was pleasant at first, and I started to enjoy myself until the horse in front of us on the train decided that we were following to closely and kicked my horse in the head. This led to my horse becoming extremely agitated and eventually bucking me off. From that moment on, I had a great fear of horses, convincing myself that they were not a beast I would trifle with any longer.
Failure is something that happens to all of us (some more often than others it seems). Dwarfing my fear of horses, was my fear of and hesitation in going back to school. My initial attempt at a post-secondary education was with a small college in southern Manitoba, Canada. I had all the right ingredients for success; I was interested in the subject matter, I had success in my high school English, History, and Arts classes, and I had taken the right classes to ensure admission into a post-secondary institution. I was meant to succeed. But I didn’t. I failed. The first time I failed I chalked it up to being fresh out of high school and having to adjust to a new type of school. The second time I failed, the reasons I used to explain away my shortcomings (a.k.a. excuses) were much less effective.
My flight or fight response kicked in at this moment, and I decided to flee. I did not want to be around anyone or anything that would remind me of my failure. I worked out a situation where I was living on my own and had a lot of time to think, reflect and come to terms with what had transpired in the last 3 years of my life. In my reflection, I noticed a couple of areas in my life that led to my failings. First, I took for granted that I would succeed, and as such, did not take my classes as seriously as I should have. I learnt that if I was going to be successful, I would need to learn how to treat the classroom as a job where my performance was being evaluated on a regular basis. I also realized that while I was struggling in school, I was portraying an image of success to my friends, peers, and family. To them, everything looked fine. This allowed me to hide the struggles I was having, but also forced me to go through them alone. I had people in my life who would be willing to help, but my pride kept me from asking for any. If I was going to succeed, I would need to learn how to ask for help. Living alone was very hard at times and I often found myself feeling sorry for my situation. This was the greatest area of my life that needed to change. I realized that I would need to suck it up and to see my failures for the growth that they had spurred, not for an excuse to give up.
While living on my own, I had been working as an Education Assistant at a local high school. Here I learnt that I had a passion for seeing young people learn and grow. Ideas of becoming a teacher had floated around in my mind, and I knew that I wanted to go back to school (for the third time now) and become a teacher. I understood this would not be an easy process (and it wasn’t), but I was committed and felt that I had learnt enough from my previous experiences to finally be successful. After taking some classes (to boost my confidence and my overall GPA), I applied to the Faculty of Education and was denied. This stung, but I was used to failure and decided that I would try again in the next year. My second application to the Faculty of Education was accepted and I was finally on my way.
I now have a network of people I trust to help edit my work, which slowly made me a better writer. This time around, I expect my classes to be difficult and stretching for me. I no longer see ’school’ as a stepping stone on my way to a career, but rather a process by where I can grow my understand of my craft (teaching) and can make connections with like-minded people. I have also learned to not hide my shortcomings, but to learn how to grow from them. If I come to a difficult problem (whether in school, life, or work) I know that there are people who are willing to help me succeed.
A couple of years ago, my wife Megan and I were invited to ride horses at a camp where we are counsellors. I had been on a kick of facing my fears and decided it was time to get back on a horse and learn how to ride. To my surprise, I throughly enjoyed the ride and got to see my own fear dissipate. If you have failed at something in life, I would ask you to heed the advice given in the two quotations at the top of this post and trust me, if I can make a comeback, so and you. The only real failure is when you give up.