The Opposite of Success is Not Failure, it’s the Fear of It

It has been a long week. I’ve had rehearsals, assignments due, and assignments that I’ve fared badly in, coming in all at once. Responsibility doesn’t always get to you, but when it does, it happens all at once; multiple deadlines and test dates falling upon you simultaneously. The education system here has prepared us all for this, I am no stranger.

It has been a long day. I was scheduled to consult one of my professors after lessons, and I planned to talk to her about how my assignment went wrong. Though I sort of knew why it went wrong; I chose the creative option for the essay assignment, and attempted to rewrite some of my readings in a different voice. I thought it was ok, and it felt right as I was writing, but apparently it wasn’t what she was looking for. I scored abysmally, and to say the least I was discouraged. Perhaps I should have stuck with the conventional options.

I walked into her office and sat down to talk to her about this. I started off with the usual excuses; I may have read the question wrongly, didn’t understand what the question really wanted from me, was confused as to what I was supposed to do.

She listened to my concerns, patiently, and when I was done she said something along these lines:

If you’re only concerned about getting good grades all the time, you wouldn’t dare to try anything new. This is why I included the creative option in the first place. One of my teachers in the past would always tell me, that if you’re going to expect to do well all the time you wouldn’t be writing. Because this entire process of writing is about trying new things and learning from your mistakes. So I’m glad you didn’t score well, and in fact I’d rather you didn’t score well. Because it shows me that you tried, that you didn’t play it safe. I wouldn’t be so worried about this if I were you.

I remember these words clearly because I don’t think I’ve heard this from many teachers in my life, for it takes tremendous courage for a teacher to say something like this to a student. Most of my teachers I’ve had wouldn’t encourage too much creativity; there was always a safer option, a more straightforward, albeit more rigorous way of memorising, structuring and conceptualising everything that can make sentences look like math equations. It takes tremendous courage for a teacher to tell a student that it is ok to be creative, that it is ok to embrace failure and learn from it amidst a system that cruelly denies those that do.

In writing, as I believe is similar in the other arts, we all go through cycles of failure and discovery, where we explore our voices and fine tune the way we express ourselves. Sentence structures, rhetorical questions and management of emotions all go into the way our words turn out, and it is a nuanced act, not one that should be girdled by the fear of failure, or the imposition of structures. I think I’ve reiterated this before in another post.

More than that, it traps beauty. In math and science subjects, we are told that only a limited set of solutions exist for a single problem, and concepts exist within a fixed paradigm and this makes success or failure a straightforward affair. Arguably, math and science possesses beauty and is inextricably linked with philosophy as well, but our education system has made this point of compromise something very difficult and in fact almost impossible to see, solidifying these otherwise fluid ideas into concrete concepts. In a world where clear, concise curriculums have to be cooked up, this is not entirely surprising.

I believe that the arts is our last frontier for creative expression, and I hope more than being tolerant to failure, that teachers can actively encourage the chance of it. Encourage their students to attempt new styles, to delve out of their comfort zones and to find a true voice within cluttered minds pounded numb by a system only concerned with results.

Within government doctrines, “education” is but a passing down of knowledge from one generation to another, and whose effectiveness is fuelled by numbers and percentages. To me it means something much more. It is the interaction of one human and another, the passing down of essential values and our guide to finding our role in this world. A latent fear of failure should never be the backdrop in the way we approach this world.

And so I thank my professor for telling me it was ok to fare badly. I thank her for encouraging creativity, and I thank her for showing me that it was ok to keep trying in a world where trying seems so inconsequential. We need more teachers like that, for only then will education be a journey and not a destination.

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2 thoughts on “The Opposite of Success is Not Failure, it’s the Fear of It

  1. Pingback: The Opposite of Success is Not Failure, it’s the Fear of It | mrquirky

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