Experiencing Life Through Failure

I was reading an article earlier today titled “Why The Ones Who Have Bad Grades Are Often The Most Successful” by Lauren Martin for Elite Daily and the subject matter reminded me of one of my own experiences in high school, without sounding pretentious. I haven’t achieved success on a grand scale as yet like how the article refers to Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, but I’d like to think with my determination and drive that I will one of these days.

In her article, Martin discusses how society has placed an unfair stigma on low grades, and a much higher importance on good grades and how far they can take you. From the time we were in kindergarten, society has continuously shown us that in order to become successful and reach excellence by industry standards, you need to strive for that classic “A” and anything lower will not be deemed proper. Sure you need to have really good grades if you want to be  a doctor or a biochemist, but in any way you put it, that’s a lot of pressure to put on a kid, you know? Can you imagine how obsessive a student gets when they are told they have to aim for excellent grades if they want to get into college? I have seen it and it is not pretty. Hey, news flash: there’s no such thing as “perfection”. Perfection is a waste of time and quite frankly, nothing can ever be perfect because there always has to be something to look forward to. If you reach that pinnacle of perfection, well then, what’s next?

When I was in high school I dreamed of taking every course I could so I could be a pediatrician. I love kids and really wanted to be like the doctors on ER but that didn’t work out. I failed my chemistry test, had to drop biology because my grades were too low and don’t get me started on calculus. My former best friend (a top-notch parvenu brat) would take it upon herself to constantly remind me that I wasn’t a very good student and that if I studied more, I would get to where I need to be. (I’m not kidding–this is who she was and probably is today, except with a bigger stick up her butt–so I’ve heard.) And sure maybe I should have studied harder until I bled out my ears to show others my range, but I also know how much I pushed myself because I wanted it. Tip for you: no one will ever know how far you can push yourself but you. It takes immense courage to push yourself and growing up, I had to. I wasn’t in the best circumstances financially and depended on myself to work hard in order to reach excellence–not perfection. Excellence is a state we can all reach, while perfection is just God’s business.

I struggled quite a bit in high school, but the only place I found solace and great success was in writing. Writing was my best friend well throughout the years. I had a diary that I got from a friend named Milana in the fifth grade, and in some ways, come to think of it, she contributed to me keeping up with my passion and constantly writing. I was extremely creative with my writing and wrote short stories in the the first grade that my teacher loved and decided to bind so I could keep on my shelf; I wrote for my high school newspaper; dabbled in poetry; and even created a short magazine entirely in French for my grade eight French class because I thought, having a magazine of my own would be fun. (If you know me, you’ll know this instance was just awesome foreshadowing to my future in the digital realm.) I loved writing! I loved every facet of writing…

That was up until the 12th grade when I had a love-hate relationship with it after I was picked on in class by my very own English teacher. I hated going to school because of this particular English teacher and at times would cry before school started because I didn’t want to hear her dissect my work in front of the class again. Whether it was poetry or a short story, she never failed to come up with some way to deter me from my comfort zone. She never thought I could be a writer in any facet because I lacked “originality” according to her, and my work was far more average than anything. At times I thought, she’s only trying to push me to become better but then it started becoming a redundant sort of behavior with her (mind you, a former Calgary Herald writer).

For a short story assignment she asked our class to write on the theme of alienation and I did, very happily too. By week’s end I asked my grade 11 English teacher if she could read it and let me know her thoughts and well, she loved it. She thought it was fantastic and said she missed my writing. My grade 12 English teacher, though? No, not so much. She said it was “poorly written rubbish” and gave me a C-plus. As a seventeen year-old, I was crushed. I thought, I’m never writing ever again. I cried about it for days and days, and then got even worse news that I was falling behind in English class, getting a 65% overall. My parents were furious because English is my first language. I cried about it and asked my other teachers what I was lacking and they were honestly, not sure because I was doing everything that was asked of me and was told that my work vibrated with “passion and personality”. It was very disheartening. Even my own father who has a Masters of English was surprised and grew furious at me, wondering if I was slacking. Did it get worse? Oh yes it did. My grade 12 English teacher would draw comparisons to my peers every once in a while during class to me, with a casual, “See Tania? Like this!” with other students would laugh because apparently school was a competition–a Hunger Games of sorts. My grade 12 English teacher told me to write more like “This girl” and “That girl”, but particularly, “This girl” because she has “flawless” skill and “will go far with writing”. Timeout: I don’t want to get judgmental here, but the facts are these. “This girl” doesn’t even write anymore. “This girl” gave up her dreams to work at a car dealership and nothing is wrong with that, except if you get the urge to get narrative in a financing form for your car.

It hurt me. It really bruised me. I was deemed a failure by education standards and it was extremely rough on me. I thought, Wow, I’m going to be a nobody after high school because everything I wanted wouldn’t let me have it. But that wasn’t true. I’m somebody and I’ve always made sure of that. In reference to Martin’s article, she says the ones getting C’s or flunking out were the greatest thinkers, leaders, and entrepreneurs of our time; that these men like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Richard Branson—they all defied the rules and took risks. So what was my risk?

I kept writing. I kept writing and I didn’t care for the grade after a while. Right after high school I kept at it and sure that grade would have helped me get a scholarship or that infamous piece of paper with a degree, but any way you look at it, I’m now a self-made individual and no one can take that away from me. My struggles, my failures, they were not a factor of my intelligence and how smart I truly was. They were just a standard for a system run by an older women who couldn’t get with the times and see past the textbook example of “success”. When my sister got sick and I had to draw back from university, I took to the books and read. I read, and I read. I educated myself and became way more street-smarts than I could imagine. I became that girl whose life experiences became a mix of all the skills, talent and charm I need in order to understand others and move along in this world and become something. I learned who I was through those ugly high school grades and that I was capable of so much more than the norm could see. And today? Well, there are so many more out there like that. You don’t have to have great grades to be one of the best. I may have had bad grades in high school but I know that I’m good in my own way–the same way there are so many writers out there who have been rejected and frowned upon for their own style and skills.

I want to make a difference in the world of writing and maybe I am with my work at NBC News’ Newsvine or the International Women’s Media Foundation, or even with my amazingly talented and highly skilled group of writers at The Hudsucker–and that’s the success I’ve found so far. Grades–schmades. If you got bad grades in school but have innovative ideas and want to make a difference in your community or world, welcome to real life…where no one in the real world cares how well you did in school. If you failed, you failed. There’s no other way around it, but at least you know where to build from in order to create a spot for yourself in this world we all make for ourselves. It’s all part of experiencing life through failure. In the words of Robert F. Kennedy,

“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”

Failure isn’t fatal and doesn’t determine where you’re going to go in life. You determine where you go. Don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise.

Image Credit: Favim
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