Originally, my post for this evening was going to be something topical about resolutions and the new year and silly things that don’t really matter in the long run but always seem to get people talking when January 1st rolls around every year. I am not really big on resolutions, or feeling good or bad because I did or did not stick to them longer than the eight-day average most people seem to. Instead I have decided to spend tonight to clear the way for a very simple rule – stop accepting failure.
I know, I know. I talk about success and failure quite a lot. Truth be told, I have a bit of experience dealing with both of them, at least psychologically. Socially, people do not wish to ever, even for a split second, reveal that they accepted any failure in the first place. Saying that you are going to stop accepting failure means that at some point in the past you did accept it, and that switches up the entire conversation to the question of WHY? Why do we ever accept failure in the first place?
Before I answer that question for myself, let me be very specific in stating that, as I have previously mentioned, failure is absolutely okay. It is alright to set your sights on a dream and not quite reach it. It is alright to not be the best, brightest, or adjective-est in the world. You can even accept failure in the sense of knowing that you are just not cut out for a certain circumstance or situation. After a lovely hand injury I discovered that snowboarding is in no way a sport at which I will ever succeed in or ever want to try my hand (ouch) at again. I am perfectly okay with being a snowboarding failure.
There are many times in my life where failure was simply the (sigh) easiest and most understood option. I accepted numerous failures in my life because it was just too difficult to quantify what success actually was in a way that made it seem appealing (or even necessary). I was more comfortable failing than facing the unknowns that success could deliver to me. I like having control over myself, and I am much more in control when I am fine with failure than I am if success washes over me and sends me into a whirlpool of uncertainty. This is especially jarring because, yes, I could accept success that I have always wanted and feel that rush of energy and that amazing natural high that reaching a goal can give you, but… what if I fail after that? That just gives me one extra step to fall back down from. That is a scary proposition, and it haunts me. It drives me crazy.
I’m a pretty decent bowler – not a pro (not even close) but I do well enough that I feel good when I set a goal and hit it, be it a clean game or hitting over a certain score (like 190 or 200), but when I don’t do that? I’m an insufferable pain in the butt. If I run into a long stretch of mediocrity (or worse), I mentally assail myself for my entire time at or on the lanes. I clam up, I retreat into my head, and I yell at myself for screwing up and being less than I know I am capable of. Obviously, this does not exactly make me the funnest person to be around, but I can not make it go away when I really want to succeed. If I made every chance of failure and success in my life like that I probably would be unable to do much of anything besides torture myself for all of the things I do wrong.
I do that already. There are things that I truly do care about and will not accept any sort of failure on, except that I do accept failure all the time. Just because I get mad at myself, cut myself off from communicating with the outside world, and bottle up all of my rage to be unleashed whenever I am in private has done absolutely nothing to make any of these failures really go away. They are still there and I still am prepared to travel the roller coaster track of emotions each and every time I screw up. So for me, it is not so much about stopping the acceptance is it is about stopping the aftermath. Failure is fine, acceptance is wasteful, anger is pointless. For far too long, my comfort zone has been Venn Diagram’d somewhere between those three circles with success nowhere to be seen or heard from. Yes, world, there is a part of me that fears being successful, because I can not even begin to know what it feels like.
What I’m beginning to know, though, is that where I am now is not the kind of first step for any sort of success I can imagine. Once I figure out what part of my imagination is the part that I desire to be real, I will be able to change where I am now to where I need to be, mentally if not physically, to better deal with all of the unknowns that scare me into thinking that failure is the answer instead of just a problem waiting to be overcome. Think about that as you go into the next year. I know I will.
Happy New Year.
My original idea for my writing tonight came from looking at the Institute of Education Sciences page of NCES statistics on the dropout rate of 16-24 year old students. Looking at that page left me one question on my mind:
If the dropout rate is going down, why are people like me so against the current educational system?
I do not consider the answer much of a surprise, and I did sort of allude to it in the title of this piece. When I wrote before about passing vs. learning, I tried to make it clear that just being able to make it through the system proves almost nothing about your abilities. Things that matters, like higher GPAs, Honors, and other such measures of “extraordinary achievement” are better proof, however they only show me that you are just better than others at surviving this particular system. This is not to say that someone that does good in this system would fail in another, but it still has created a very defined set of criteria for what makes a student bad or good, if not dismal or fantastic.
Thanks to programs like No Child Left Behind (and the Drop Out Prevention Act contained there-in), it has become much easier to survive the system en route to be handed a diploma. This has the effect of actually decreasing the gap of ability between a dropout and a graduate and yet at the exact same time has widened the gap between the upper tiers of graduates and those that are, as I mentioned, solely survivors of the system. Just having your name on a piece of paper does not carry the weight that it used to.
A fundamental shift has taken place when it comes to what is expected of you as a student but those expectations are far from being deemed as ingredients of long-term success. The problem, again, is the process. There exists a process for turning a four or five year old child with no formal education into an eighteen to twenty-something year old adult that is formally educated. It is just an incredibly broken process that relies on antiquated ways of thinking about what it means to not just be a student, but to be a graduate. Making sure people earn the proper “credits” or the right number of “hours” does very little to show me what is actually being absorbed. It does even less in showing me if what was absorbed even matters at all. You could spend your entire educational lifespan working toward becoming a lawyer, but thanks to any number of reasons – not able to finance the education, not being good enough to get into a law school, did not shake the right hands or smile at the right people – you just wasted the most important years of your life to now suddenly be stuck working in a box factory. It is not that I look down on those that may have something like this occur in their life, but I just the example to illustrate the point that what it takes to be a lawyer and what it takes to be the menial, ho-hum, here-for-the-paycheck-and-nothing-else box factory employee are so far from each other that by striving for the former and ending up with the latter you are proving that the system is flawed. If you are good enough to be a lawyer, then money should not matter, and if you are closer to a factory worker than to an attorney should have that be made clear to you long before you begin to fork over cash for a lump of fool’s gold.
I really do want people to be better students. I want their to be real success in people’s lives thanks to a worthwhile education, but the process of becoming a good learner and a good applier of knowledge (for more than just memorizing test answers) has to be razed and rebuilt before anything can be accomplished that truly matters.
There exists the old adage that stupidity is everywhere. One might talk about some sort of stupidity at their job, in their classes, or just out in the world around them. One might then express the desire to change their job, classroom, or general habits to avoid those specific forms of stupidity. The answer will come down as if heralded by trumpets and streamers that it matters not where you go or what you do that stupidity in some form will be wherever they go, no matter what.
I have never understood why this is considered acceptable.
Granted, a good portion of these instances might just be bad luck or petty annoyances that have been psychologically inflated to mean more than they actually do. Everyone has bad days, or just bad moments, myself included. However, the general idea of these annoyances has stirred up a sort of stereotype, or at least an incredible generalization, that can rear its ugly head at a moment’s notice. It is not an uncommon occurrence to hear someone else say that they do not wish to deal with someone else because they are “stupid” or any similar descriptor one can invent.
For purposes of this post, let’s imagine that in a given scenario featuring ten people that eight of them would tend to agree that the other two would fall into the category of “stupid.” What exactly does this mean? In terms of completing projects, asking for assistance, or even being interacted with at all those two people would find themselves shuttered away from everyone else, either by ignorance or force (or both). The fact is: no one wants to deal with stupid.
But let’s take another look at this scenario. What if, instead of stupidity as the issue, it was one of trust. Yes, trust can waiver due to repeated moments of declared “stupid behavior”, but trust is still the overlying theme. You would rather do something yourself, or with less overall input from your group of peers, than open it up to everyone and take the chance of someone else’s stupidity either not helping or even hurting your progress toward a goal. This leads into another potential unit of measure – ease. The faster, or easier, one can get a job done is all the better for the worker. Adding in unstable elements that could cause the amount of ease to vanish, or turn into even harder work, is a negative no one should or would want to deal with.
If you can not work with stupid, work around it.
You might think that the above is the absolute simplest answer to the problem of what to do when surrounded by perceived stupidity. But there is actually a much easier (but not necessarily better) way that people take all of the time when confronted with this problem. They simply do nothing at all. They see no reason to even bother trying to change what is around them and instead continue to float surrounded by what they feel is complete incompetence with no safe haven in sight. As I said, nothing about this is better, it’s just easier. Putting yourself in a position to fail (and possibly be made to look stupid yourself) is not a risk worth taking, especially in education and business matters.
The problem that flows out of all of this is the idea that confrontation is the worst thing you can do to deal with the perception of stupidity. No one wants to be the one that sits down with a classmate or fellow employee and tells them that you think they are stupid or worthless at their current position, be it as the member of a work team or a group project. Even still, no one wants to be the one to seek out help from above, be it a teacher or manager, lest unknown backlash be levied against them by other parties (perhaps the people who you have labeled, justly or unjustly, in the first place).
Giving someone that label is not always inaccurate, but it does not get any closer to changing the outcome you are trying to prevent. In some situations, the idea of doing nothing at all is not an option, though there are some that may shoehorn it into their list of choices just to give themselves an escape hatch. That said, there are times when that label is given not as an accurate description of someone else’s abilities, but as an excuse to take that easy way out of simply not doing anything at all. If that team of ten people are tasked with cleaning a specific area with brooms and ten hours to do so, that is fine. But if then eight of them are told to create something to help the other two clean faster (like, say, a vacuum…which may take an hour to build to take away two hours of overall work), the eight might scoff at making the job more difficult for the stupid people by giving them more advanced equipment that they may not know how to use properly. Remember, this is just a quick example.
The mentality is that while, yes, building the vacuum may take that single hour to build it could very well cause the two people forced to use it multiple hours of confusion, or at least enough for them to forget about it and go back to the broom. Thus, that is time wasted. Time that businesses can not afford to just have floating off into space. This mentality is really only partially plausible. While the prior scenario may be the one that plays out, with careful planning from the eight builders and a good use of time and training, they might not save the total of two hours, but they could still come out ahead in the long run (and if asked to clean an even larger area in a similar fashion they will already have the equipment necessary without having to rebuild it new from scratch). This psychological tug of war between work that needs to be done, work that is actually done, and work that is extraneous due to issues converting the needs into the haves is precisely what causes people to take the easy road of nothing far more than the path of actual labor. Now imagine if everyone did this all the time, and visions of economic (or at least capitalist and corporate) collapse will start filling your heads.
I will always agree (and state time and time again here and elsewhere) that work is hard, especially at first. But if no one would have decided to make that first vacuum, instead deciding that the consumers set to use it were too stupid to understand it, then we would still be wasting quite a lot of time with brooms in our hands rather than experiencing a much greater abundance of free time than innovation and (gasp) hard work as afforded us. We just can not let thoughts of stupidity keep us from continuing to do a little more work now en route to reaping benefits later.
Doing that would be, well, pretty darn stupid.
Maybe I am just severely out of the loop, or maybe I have just not being paying as much attention to reality as I probably should have been. I mean, I have heard comments from newer parents about what their children are learning in elementary school and I am almost shocked at what they tell me. I know that when I was younger, something like cursive script was not a classroom topic until at least third grade and long division not until fourth. Now, I see things like these being the norm at much earlier ages.
I am torn over whether or not this is a good or bad thing. My wavering opinion is based almost solely on what can be considered “‘too much learning” being dumped on the mind of a young child. Granted, essays and medical studies have shown that a child’s learning curve is through the roof from birth until the age of five, where it slowly begins to level off as the burdens of school drag them down and take them out of an environment where everything can be learned and placed into a situation where only certain things are taught and excepted to be understood and remembered (at least until it is time to pass a test or write an essay).
I will more than likely forever maintain that the current structure of education is flawed by way of trying to fence in what is to be taught and handing it out in educated doses daily for years on end instead of more free-flowing, but I fear that is a fight I will never win no matter how many words I spew out or how much information would happen to come out to support the issue. The infrastructure is what it is and changing it would be such an immense problem that I almost do not even trust those currently in charge to do it correctly or efficiently.
Besides all of that, though, is just this idea that what I remember as being difficult for my 9 year old mind is now being thrust upon the mind’s of those at ages 7 or 8, or sometimes even younger. I do understand that preschool learning has advanced quite a lot since I could have taken advantage of it and it does pain me to know that my children, when I start a family, will have such a greater access to information than I ever did. I can not even comprehend what the future holds in that regard. As such, I can see future generations learning even more “advanced” subjects even earlier, and I am not certain the current system can handle such a continued push. Only time will tell if I am just being left behind alone in a faster learning environment or if that environment itself is leaving more behind than it realizes as it continues to gain momentum. Technology, not humanity, has become the thing that shapes what we learn, when we learn, and how we learn. I am just not so sure Moore’s Law applies to brains the way it does to the tech world. How much information can you fit on a brain cell, anyway?
This time one month ago, plus a few days, I started putting at least some consideration in trying my hand at NaNoWriMo again. I have tried before and usually combinations of many factors would quickly do me in. This year became no exception to that fine tradition I have been crafting since I first heard about the concept a few years ago. I have simply found it way too difficult to be creative, and that hurts me on a number of levels.
I would love to try and pass the blame onto other people or situations, but it all is and should be put squarely on my shoulders for my complete inability to do the things I (think) I want to do. I have listened to a lot of people talk about how things in life are so much easier when they are something you absolutely, positively want to do. I have heard it said that a lack of focus shows more about what you really care about than what you are trying to focus on. What I guess I am trying to say is that, dreams and ambitions aside, I must not have any grasp on exactly what I want to be when I grow up. Sadly, I say this as a 29-year-old.
I have, especially recently, surrounded myself with influential artists of all shapes and sizes – whether they are web developers and designers, speakers, bloggers, traditional fiction and non-fiction writers, or simply just obsessively creative people, I have looked at the things they have accomplished and are working toward accomplishing trying to figure out why exactly I can not seem to fit into the realm of The Creative Soul as much as I wish I could. It is not that I am not a creative person, per say, as I still believe that I am. I just happen to have way more vision than I do scope, resources, or ability. A critic of the previous sentence might lambaste me for not working to improve my abilities and resources. This is as justified a criticism as there can be for what I am writing this evening. Time has flown by me so fast, and with such force, that I still feel as though I am stuck in a place far in my past. This could possibly be why my memory is so awkward and strange, but that is a topic for another day.
I would love to have an answer for my dilemma. I’ve been searching for one for a few years now, and before that I searched for even longer. If fate truly has a way of guiding everyone to their proper place, then it is either taking one heck of a long time to get to me or I missed my on-ramp somewhere in the past three decades. Hopefully, if I did miss it, I will be able to find a way to swing back around and get to where I am supposed to be. But that’s just the thing, isn’t it? Time is a one-way street, and there is no going back to the way things were before. I need to keep pushing forward, hell or high water, and be on the lookout for that one thing that I can not currently define, but is solely mine for the taking.
A hint would be appreciated.