Ninety-Nine — Failer

It’s exhausting to be bad at something.

Like, really bad. So bad someone corrects you every fifteen minutes. So bad you second guess every move because you want to avoid being corrected but your second guessing turns to third guessing and then you never make the right call and end up being corrected anyway.

Friday I asked the woman at work who is training me if I had done something correctly, bracing myself for the “No you forgot X Y AND Z, AGAIN,” but instead she nodded and said, “yup,” and it was such a relief. I have been realizing that in general I am quite accustomed to being right, correct, and good at things. And this job where I am not right, correct, or good at things is taking its toll on me.

I am tough and have a lifetime of being right, correct, and good at things standing behind me to back me up. I can give myself bathroom and driving-to-work pep-talks, but the glow from them only lasts fifteen minutes at best because, well, I am bad at my job.

Can I remember the last time I failed? Let’s see. We don’t count stories rejected, because that’s part of the writer’s life. We don’t count parenthood because we can’t really know until, well ever. There are blog posts — many of them — without comments. That counts for failure in my world.

I can forgive myself all minor failures because in the greater world I feel like a success. And this is a gift; from my heritage to me. From me as a middle-class white girl whose parents stayed together and didn’t do drugs, to me.

Coincidentally — serendipitously? — at work I move around the files of people who have not had these gifts given to them. They were set up for failure from conception. Then, when they failed, they were berated. Their lives stacked failure upon failure like Lego bricks. Over time they have come to believe they are incompetent, incapable of anything but robbing a gas station, beating a girlfriend. Offered a chance to do something hard, to make something of themselves, with the backdrop of failure behind them, they take it, fail, do it again. Whereas I, coming from a place of reward and love, luxury and privilege, balk and tire at the first signs of difficulty. My eyes are tired. I complain. I’m so tired of being bad at this job.

I could quit. All the stress would vanish. We could go back to our old budget, our old lives. I could choose that path. I could have five luxurious days off a week again.

But I won’t.

I am lucky to be here, lucky to be me. I have a job, when many do not. I have a brain, as rusty as it is. I have supportive family, understanding kids, a car that runs.

Having been built up my whole life, I can afford to fail.

It is as important to be resilient as it is to be competent. It is good for me to fuck up, day after day, to have someone following me around checking up on me, telling me where I went wrong. It shows me how my kids must feel, sometimes. It will help me be a better parent, a better person, more forgiving and patient.

Oh it sucks. It sucks so hard to be 39 and 3/4s and be incompetent at something. Truly, panic-inducingly incompetent.

But after weekend one (the one with the kids) and weekend two (the two days where I am blessedly alone), I will start to feel like I might be ready to give it another try. I will be ready to walk into work again, strong and tall, with my many competencies to help keep me upright as I am slammed by waves of “you did this wrong” and “you put this thing here instead of there” and “don’t you remember? the ponies go in the UPPER mail slot.”

(Really. Ponies. Who knew.)

Someday I’ll look back at this and laugh. Maybe even next week? Probably not. But someday.

6 thoughts on “Ninety-Nine — Failer

  1. Melissa

    Don’t worry. You will write your book and it will be successful and this will be one of those things you can laugh about during your interview with Strombo. Or Jian. Or Jon.

    I’m really hoping post #100 isn’t the last of you.

  2. Harriet

    Hey, we can’t be good at everything dammit!

    I aways assume I’m going to do things badly and when I actually do do them badly, it still hurts. Moral? Believe you are good at everything anyway!

    Or something.

    And, I’m pretty sure in a matter of months, you’ll as good as anyone has ever been in such a job.

  3. catriona

    When we met Commander Hadfield last night, my husband and I agreed that we both wanted to whisper “don’t fuck it up, Chris” to him. In hindsight, god, that’s harsh on the poor man. If anyone has the right to, he has.

    Now, I know you haven’t reached such lofty heights yet (though I, too, look forward to you chatting with Jian while I sort laundry), but I think you should have the right to fuck up. Lots. Go easy on yourself. The fact that you are seeing it as something that’ll make you stronger says enough in itself.

    (I am really, really, shit at sorting laundry.)

  4. L.

    I was reading something awhile ago about how you need to tell a kid he’s exactly why he’s good instead of just handing out unsubstantiated “you’re great!”s. Too much general praise supposedly inflates their egos into some sort of very fragile balloon while at the same time making them a bit asshole-ish, because they think they’re awesome at everything, when really, they’re not. Maybe the author was arguing against those tiny soccer trophies that say “Good Try!”? I can’t remember.

    Today in speech, E’s therapist kept telling him to do stuff, and then she said, “[something something], please,” and he said, “Thank you for saying ‘please.'” I guess she read it as kind of sassy, but he didn’t mean it that way. He really meant, thanks for using a nice word. But anyway, that’s the world he lives in, one in which niceties concerning niceties are exchanged. It’s hard to remember what a big deal it is for that to be your status quo, so I will thank you, specifically, for pointing that out.

  5. Pat

    Whatever else you are, were or will be failure is not on the list. You’re funny, sassy, resourceful and on and on. You’re bright, outspoken, argumentative sometimes and self-assured. You’re frugal, loyal and adventurous. You have birthed and raised two lovely children. You have for 7 years+ succeeded at the toughest job around. You’re a wonderful mother, a great wife and one of the two most wonderful daughters-in-law that a person could have. And finally you make an extremely tasty pizza from scratch and you can drink beer with the best.
    If the friggin’ paper is that important somebody will find it regardless of where you filed it.
    I want to be there when they hand you the Giller and that cheque for $50K.

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