Using Failure

Failure seldom, if ever, feels good. It’s not fun. Some people fear it; some expect it to appear around every corner. Some even look down on it as a negative, a sign of personal weakness and disdain those who experience it.

But failure is a natural part of life. We all fail at something, many of us at multiple things. If taken as a natural part of the journey to success, failure can actually be a very good experience.

I’ve always had an internal locus of control. My mindset has always been that my personal failures were a result of my not trying hard enough and usually, that’s been the case. I possess the talent of picking up things quickly and often with little actual effort. I’m not trying to brag, we all have our strengths. My weakness is that because I pick up on things easily, I seldom put any true work into mastering anything. This bothers me and I often harbour regrets that I didn’t try harder to really learn certain things (most notably Spanish, which I really, really wanted to learn), or follow through with them, or put in the work to make sure I was doing the absolute best that I could do. Truthfully, I can think of few things that were important enough for me to truly put effort into. When my minimal effort typically results in me being towards the ‘top of the class’ there never seems to be any reason to try so hard, so I never really learned how to persevere.

Thankfully, I made efforts to change this over the last few years as I’ve grown personally.

Now it’s time to pull out my shiny new perserverence and put it to good use.

Applying to a major university (at the pushing and prodding of my husband) was a serious step outside of my comfort zone. Being in college has been a constant readjustment for me but academically, college is right smack in the middle of my wheelhouse. I am GOOD at school. Always have been. I love learning, I learn quickly, and writing papers comes naturally to me. School is the one thing I am truly, truly good at.

I chose a field of study that I have been interested in my whole life; one that I LOVE. American Sign Language is a wonderful, diverse, historic, culturally diverse, naturally occurring language that I fall more and more in love with everyday. It fascinates me, it excites me, it ignites my passion and I get all giddy when I’m showing people all the cool new things I’ve learned. (Many times they don’t seem to think they are as cool as I do…)

I get the concepts. I understand them intrinsically. I love studying the linguistics and often do outside reading in this area.  It makes sense and I am able to apply concepts across multiple areas.  I know the information and can use it to delve deeper and deeper into the language. In all of these respects, I’m good at American Sign Language.

And then today, I found out that I failed my entrance interview into the ASL interpreting program.

The news was disappointing, but not unexpected. In fact, deep down I would have been more disappointed had I been accepted. I know my interview was terrible. I was terrible in it. The problem is that although I KNOW everything I should at this point about American Sign Language, more even than most of my peers, I struggle to express that knowledge. Even as I was signing during my interview, I knew I was doing it wrong but I was so nervous, I couldn’t slow down. I couldn’t stop and think about what I was doing and I just kept going.

This could easily be an excuse – I failed because I was so nervous and that wouldn’t be a far reach. However, I have the same problem almost every time I sign in general conversation. My brain works too fast trying to get out what I want to say and I struggle to slow down and make sure I’m actually signing it right. It’s a problem I’ve tried talking to my professors about, with little success.

I am told over and over again, practice, practice, practice. It’s difficult, though. I’m just fine when I’m working on videos and presentations I’ve prepared in advance but in general conversation, I can’t produce the same level of fluency. And in those moments when I’m using the language spontaneously, those with whom I’m communicating rarely stop me to correct my usage.

It’s a frustrating situation but I refuse to be frustrated by it.

This failure could have derailed me, tarnished my motivation and passion, make me give up. It has the potential to be a very big negative in my life. But it also has the potential to be the catalyst to push me to try harder, be deliberate in my pursuit of fluency, push me to move beyond my natural ability into the realm of expertise.

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And it is this latter effect I fully intend to embrace. Yes, I failed my interview. But that’s ok. Honestly, failing is probably the best thing that could have happened. Why? Because now I will stop relying on my natural ability and actually put serious, specific, directed effort into my field of study. I refuse to let failure derail me, instead I will use my failure as the catalyst that pushes me to succeed.

I have one more chance, at the end of summer, to interview for the interpreting program. I intend to do every. single. thing. in my power to make sure I am skilled enough to pass that interview.

It feels good to have this inner strength; to not be set on a spiral towards depression by this (historically that would have been the outcome of my failing at something I truly care about). It has been such a season of personal growth the last few years. I’ve been pushing myself to get outside my comfort zone (thanks again to the pushing and prodding of Wonderful Husband) and not let everything affect me so much. And I know I keep coming back to Whole30, but I must because even as early as two months ago, before Whole30, my emotions about this would have been seriously affected. I WOULD have been really down, even mildly depressed and possibly ready to give-up (at least temporarily) because of this failure.

But today I sit here, more determined than ever to use this failure to my advantage. Instead of depression, or self-hatred and self-criticism, I feel determined, focused, and driven to do better. The combination of my personal growth and the growth I am experiences through Whole30 (and living a life of balanced hormones) is amazing. I feel like I truly can succeed at whatever I put my mind to. And if I don’t, then it truly, truly wasn’t meant to be.

When I got my ‘rejection’ email, it contained a list of things I need to work on before re-testing. I wrote all of them onto Post-it notes and stuck them on up behind my computer to remind me what my deliberate, measurable goals need to be for the next fifteen weeks.

I have full confidence that If I do fail my second and last attempt at gaining entrance to the program, it WILL. NOT. be because I didn’t give it every possible effort I could.

Here’s to taking dreams, turning them into goals, and relentlessly pursuing them.

Jen

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