The Fear of the Fail
A few days ago a friend of mine was telling me about a struggle she is currently having with her daughter who is a freshman in college. Daughter does not want to return to said college for the spring semester. From what I took from the conversation, the primary reasons seem to be an inability to adjust to college culture. Additionally, Daughter has decided to change her major. For storytelling purposes, I’ll compare it to going from rocket science to restaurant hospitality (no disrespect, it’s for clarification purposes). Daughters reasoning for this in addition to ‘rocket science is too hard’, is “I just want to do something that I’m good at.”
Because I like to consider myself a ‘tough love’ kind of momma, my first reaction to this conversation was along the lines of “Too damn bad. Suck it up buttercup. Welcome to the real world. It’s time to learn that not everything is as easy as high school.” I was also a little confused because my friend shares a somewhat similar parenting style. I quickly changed my tune when she told me that a friend of hers recently had to commit her own daughter after a near suicide attempt which was precipitated by some of the same challenges that Daughter is going through. Obviously, I understand my friend’s reluctance to tell Daughter to pack it up and shuffle off to the dorm.
This conversation haunted me for the rest of the day. It breaks my heart (yes, the bat cave) to see such a gifted young woman give up on something that could be so fantastically wonderful. After giving it some thought, it’s my opinion (and I believe her mother’s too) that this really is an issue of Daughter being afraid to fail. After a way above average high school career, she has found herself away from home, with different people, in a far more challenging academic situation, where the potential to fail is very present, and the consequences of failure likely seem unbearable.
The fear of failure is something that nearly everyone deals with. Most adults, as a generalization, are more equipped to handle failure. A well rounded adult recognizes that failure is usually accompanied by some ‘life lesson’, or ‘another door opening’ or some other assorted bullshit, etc. Anymore though, our children, especially young adults, see failure as the end all be all. Failure is the nail in the coffin. It’s life destroying. Failure is the scarlet letter that will follow them for the rest of their lives.
Thinking about this has made sent me back to high school, reminiscing on all the things I half assed in those four years. I played soccer for four years through elementary school and middle school, yet when it came time to try out for JV as a Freshman in high school, I didn’t. I was a beast on the soccer field. As the sweeper, I dislocated my shoulder during a game because the offensive player thought that I would back off. I don’t know what mph our bodies collided at but I took the hit and saved the goalies ass. I would have been a contender to play in high school. But I didn’t try, because I assumed I wouldn’t make it.
I also danced for nine years. But once some of my classmates started excelling faster than I did, I gave up because I assumed I would never be as good as they were. Admittedly, some of my high school failures were also due to the fact that I fell into a crowd that appreciated the art of getting stoned more than being a well rounded individual. That’s neither here nor there. It was just far easier to throw in the towel on a number of conquests, than face the reality that I might not succeed.
So here I am, like any other parent, analyzing the mistakes I made and how to avoid them with my own children. Hollywood asked me, it might have even been the same day that I took the phone call that precipitated this post, if she could come with me to crossfit. We were watching ‘The Biggest Loser’ and she got excited over one of the contestants lifting weights. I mentioned to her that Coach Fil might one day have a class for little people like her. She asked me, “But what if I can’t do it?”
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