Failure: 1) lack of success; 2) the omission of expected or required action; 3) the action or state of not functioning.
Growing up, failure was never really an option. There were things that were always expected of me and the perfectionism in me, and those dangerous expectations, would not let me put forth less than a valiant effort. I practiced the piano and the saxophone faithfully. I don’t remember ever really complaining about practicing but I’m sure my mom would disagree. I would even practice as a way to get out of doing chores (I admit with a small bit of shame). As a result, I excelled in my music lessons, studied music in college, and now am here before you.
My motivation was mostly internal but the praise from outward sources never hurt. I truly just wanted to be better than those around me. I felt so faulted in many areas of my life that I wanted to excel in at least one. I always felt like, as the youngest of six, I was compared to my siblings in every single thing I did and found extremely lacking. The moment that I surpassed my brother on the piano was a fantastic moment for me. I lacked in the math skills department but I excelled in the arts.
I was, and am, a perfectionist and that makes the idea of failure very tangible. Looking back, I can see that some of those things that I thought were huge failures in my life were not as bad I thought in the moment. Living as a perfectionist that struggles with a lot of things is not as fun as it sounds. I feel like it sounds like I’m complaining but I’m truly not. My life is mine and I accept the responsibility for the whole. This is my story and I feel like it needs to be told – if only so that it gets out of my head!
Failure is inevitable. Success is not guaranteed and it is not going to appear every time a task is completed. The thing about tangible failure is that it is real and makes the lofty goals seem that much more unattainable. I tell myself over and over that I just need to keep putting forth the effort and the results will follow. This is what I’ve been told time and again by others – so it must be true, right? Right.
This thought about failure and effort has been on my mind today because of an e-mail I received from the mother of one of my students. She has been struggling with getting her child to practice – she has tried one thing after another and nada. This child does not seem to care whether she is unprepared. She is the polar opposite of me. So, not only am I thinking about what I can do as her teacher to help motivate her but I am thinking how ill-equipped I am to handle this sort of behavior. How do you motivate someone that is okay with failure? How do you help someone that is not intrinsically motivated? I cannot reach into her brain and activate the intrinsic motivation switch and the external one is not working so well, either. This child is gifted and I think that has caused some of her issues. The piano has come fairly easy to her thus far and now that it is becoming more challenging, she’d like to give up and do something easier. So, failure, success, motivation. Those words are bouncing around my brain like the song that never ends.
Failure has never been a true, default option for me but there are times that I wish it had been more of one. I often find myself lacking in many areas of my life but I always put forth some amount of effort. I am finding myself failing tonight in knowing how to respond to someone that is okay with failing because I feel like I was never expected to be able to fail. Now, I’m failing all over the place.