Monday, July 29, 2013

Surviving "F"ailure (aka Getting an "F" and Getting on with It)

When I was growing up, the old adage stood: "Winning wasn't everything, it was the only thing."

Not in sports of course--I was not exceptionally coordinated or fast (though I was stubborn). Not in music--I loathed piano practice with the fiery passion of a thousand burning suns.

But I was an exceptional student. I started reading early. I started writing early. I was the one who finished the Workshop list first in the class, intently checking each item off with growing levels of excitement (there's a reason why I'm a list girl to this day!). Even in math, which wasn't my strong suit, I got A's in. Because, well, I got A's.

Until I didn't. In Mrs. Smith's (name changed to protect the innocent) Freshman Algebra class, on the mid-term final. I blanked. I could not remember the quadratic equation to save my life. So, with time running out and my entire body in fight-or-flight mode, I figured out a new way to get to the answer, using this bizarrely complicated divide-and-average scheme that WORKED.

I got all of the answers correct. And I still got an "F", because I got there the wrong way.

I totally cried. In class. As a Freshman in High School. The entire rest of the class was spellbound.

That lesson taught me several important points:

1) Never cry in Algebra Class, if you can at all avoid it. This, I think, needs no further explanation.

2) Sometimes, the world isn't fair, or even correct. I got the answers RIGHT! And I still got an F. To me, this was the height of injustice. To my teacher, the process was just as important than the outcome (oh, piffle). And yes, I'm still bitter. :) I should have gotten points for ingenuity, at the very least.

3) One F (or even several failures) does not define you. You're going to fail--sometimes several times in succession. Just keep going - everyone else will forget. Really. I failed and then burst into tears (awesome), and despite my momentary humiliation, no one really cared half as much as I did. My teacher was unmoved; my family was more intrigued than concerned. I still had to show up in class the next day... and the next. And keep trying.

Since that fateful Algebra Test, I've set myself many challenges. I have achieved many successes--and failed many times. Even as an author, I wrote manuscripts--got good feedback--I even won national awards. But every time a publisher or agent rejected me, it was like getting an "F" again.

But the trick is to keep going. I ended up getting an A in Algebra for the year, despite my crappy mid-term. I ended up selling my debut novel, Maid of Secrets - and Book 2 in the series, Maid of Deception, despite not selling several manuscripts before it. I kept going, which for a writer means: I kept writing.

I have more challenges that I've set for myself, like selling the final books in the Maids of Honor series, and exploring entirely different worlds as well with future fiction projects. I know I will have more success, and more failures (inevitably). But that's part of making your way in life, of following your dreams.

And I still cry when bad things happen. But I've learned some tricks to manage that as well: I now keep chocolate on hand to ease the blow. :)

What about you? Have you ever "F"ailed and had to get on with it?


Melissa Landers said...

Jen, I just want to say that I would have cried right alongside you in algebra class.

Kimberly said...

I would have been so thankful that I had a math-minded brain (where I could have figured it out on my own in my own way) that I would have probably broke out in a happy dance of epic proportions--even with the F. :-)
My husband is from Iran and learned math a different way than my daughters are learning it. It frustrates them that he's teaching it "wrong". I think that's the most important lesson of all. There's so many ways to get to the final destination. The journey and thinking outside the box is the best way. Learning that other people's "wrong ways" are right for them. And maybe even right for other people as well.
I hear you with the chocolate. It can ease all things. Lol.

CareyCorp said...

Jenn - you are a model of perseverance. That algebra lesson sure paid off!