Nov 11, 2018

Failure & Success

I am goal oriented. It feels great to set big goals and start to chip away at them, one thing at a time. To do lists with check boxes, sign me up. I love projects and seeing it through to the payoff at the end. Well, I love it during the goal setting phase and the finishing the project phase. The middle part is where the doubt and frustration always creeps in. It’s when I start saying things to myself like, why do I always do this, it’s so hard, I can’t finish this, I shouldn’t feel this way, the bigger the risk, the bigger the failure. What a self-limiting perspective. That’s not the way I want to think about myself and my goals. The truth is, it’s generally not how I think about my goals. Until I’m feeling like I’m facing the impossible and everyone will see me try something and not succeed.

This summer I set out to get first place at OABI (Once Around Belle Isle, 7 mile SUP race). This fall I applied to the Masters of OT (Occupational Therapy) program at Eastern Michigan University. Just stating when the race was or when the application was due really doesn’t speak to how long and hard I worked on both of these goals. I’ve been racing at OABI for two years before this race and had been training specifically for this goal for about 9 months. For the Masters program, I had been taking prerequisites for 3 years; including, but not limited to 10 college classes, 40+ hours of clinical observation, and the GRE.

I didn’t want to talk about OABI or my grad school application leading up to it. I didn’t want to remind people of these big goals that I had set. Winning OABI, are you insane? I placed 13th last year. The day was going to be filled with enough race day nerves, I didn’t need to add to it by putting in the pressure of other peoples expectations. I felt humiliated that I might have spent 3 years working towards a Masters program and not getting in. I had a hard time focusing on how good everything would end up and my mind often slipped into negativity.

The past couple years, I’ve been learning to look my anxiety and insecurities straight in the face. I’ve been working on tracing them back and examining them instead of believing or burying them. This has made me realize that one of my fears is the judgements and expectations of others. I worry that they won’t understand, will look down on me, or that I won’t live up to their expectations. If you know me it is hilarious that I care what other people think. I’ve worked so hard to build the idea that I don’t care what anyone thinks. I’ve always been very blunt and direct, I speak my mind. I don’t wear makeup, don’t do much with my hair, I dress very comfortably, I don’t look at myself in group photos after they’re taken or often look in the mirror. These things, on the surface, would make it appear that I really don’t care what others think or feel about me. But as I dug deeper I realized that I so care. I thought about how after every party I worry about the thing that I said that may or may not have been perceived as rude, I thought about how I turn the stereo down when I get to a stoplight in case the other drivers judge my music, how I am always wondering what other people in line at the store are thinking of the food/clothes/snacks I buy. I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t seen it before.

Anxiety is filled with many different fears and I’ve learned that as you address one fear, the others tend to get stronger. I’ve also learned that the road through is not linear at all. When I finally felt like I had shed other’s expectations of how I would do at OABI (which are non-existent by the way, no one would care if I didn’t do well in a 7 mile race in the Detroit River! Those who care would be proud of me for even trying), I started believing the imaginary judgement of what people would think if I didn’t get into the only graduate school where I had applied. I don’t even know what I thought they would think but the idea that I might have to tell everyone that I failed sent me into backup plans and searching for another future that would make this failure seem more tolerable.

Something else happened too though, in the setting of this gigantic goal, I trained harder than I ever had before. I visualized myself crossing the finish line first, grabbing the black paddle. I believed in myself in a different way than I had when training for this race the two previous years that I competed. In my classes, I achieved the best grades I ever had, I did well on the GRE, I took notes and learned a lot during my clinical observation hours. Sure I wanted to block out other peoples opinions on my performance, but I opened up space for myself to achieve more than I thought was possible.

Big goals have taught me that the bigger the risk, the bigger the reward. The failure of not reaching a goal is so much smaller because I end up further than I would have if I set an easy goal to begin with. I never would have gotten 4th place if my goal had been to PR. I never would have gotten into at OT Masters program had my goal been to attend a school without a GRE or a competitive admissions process. 

Moving forward I am excited to take this as a lesson and set huge goals again and again. The next time I fear failure or start to get worried about what other people think, I’ll stop and look closer. There is so much to learn in every day. I’m grateful for this reminder to check my thoughts and make sure that I’m imagining the things that I want to happen, not the things that I don’t. I also now realize that we’re so supported by our loved ones. I’m so grateful for all the cheerleaders that I’ve learned have been on my side the whole time. Cheerleaders that are there even when, especially when, I fail. We’re capable of so much more than we know, we just have to be willing to fail.