Nothing in life is ever guaranteed. No matter what you want, whether it be a job or a college or an application to whatever, or even completing your own projects, there is always a chance of failure.
Confidence is very much a two-way street. I need confidence in order to do well, in order to present my best work and increase my chances of getting what I want. But I also cannot be too confident in what I do, otherwise the reality of failure is far too present. And conversely, failure is very capable of shattering this confidence, and forcing me to start over. It has, so many times in the past, even for situations that are not my own.
The other day, a good friend of mine tried out for a very competitive volleyball team (I don’t personally play, but I know a lot of people who do, and I’m pretty familiar with the sport and its competitions.) She’d worked for months on improving her skills, and I personally saw her improvement from a confused student to a starting player and an impressive athlete. She’d kept on playing all the way through to the tryouts, even through the hurricane, much to my astonishment (and initial worry, but everything was alright), and had slowly gained the confidence needed to be a leader and succeed on the court.
So when she failed, everything came crashing down. I saw how much she’d changed, how that confidence just fell apart. There was nothing I could really say to improve that situation; reassurances sounded false, and I can’t change a failure.
Society has a tendency to both embrace and vilify failure. We’re criticized for overreacting to our defeats, schools are set up to encourage everyone to succeed, and everyone is taught that their work is special. On the other side, failure is seen as a necessary step in development, mistakes are stepping-stones to successes, and sometimes, failure is even encouraged.
But failure isn’t anything glamorous. It’s painful, both to experience and to watch, and the memories of a deep-set failure can linger for years. I’ve seen that with my friend, I see that with myself. I still remember the little failures of my past, as a child – and they constantly show up in my nightmares and thoughts. I remember my disastrous attempts at mending friendships, my disappointing results in trying to lead the school’s robotics team. Perhaps we as humans are hardwired to remember failures to avoid repeating past mistakes. Even so, that doesn’t change the fact that those failures are what we remember, and what we can continue to be haunted by.
But does that mean that this reaction to failure is wrong? Is it wrong for me to always remember my failures, for my friend to mope about for a few days? We all have to fall sometime…and perhaps it’s a good thing that I’ve personally experienced it earlier rather than later.