As my date of candidacy committee is quickly approaching (March 26), I have been invited by one of my supervisors to wrestle with the possibility of failing this committee. He does not mean it as a pessimistic “glass is half empty” kind way, but I think as a means of blessing. He is offering me a gift I struggle to offer myself. He knows me well and knows how much I want to pass committee. But I know if I go into committee with that attitude, the committee will see right through that. Instead, I need to be present with them, show them what I know, and acknowledge what I don’t know. This one vote does not determine the course of the rest of my life (although it sure does feel like that at the moment!).
In my early life, failing meant I did not do enough to get the gold star. It meant my teachers, my parents, my gymnastics coaches, my band directors – essentially all of my authority figures – expected more out of me. This has been a pattern in my life as long as I can remember. It peaked in high school when I tried so hard to be perfect after feeling like I deeply failed in middle school. In high school, I joined every extracurricular activity I could fit into my schedule and took honors/AP classes whenever possible. B’s were not an option for me and I remember crying when I found out my senior year that I was getting a B in AP Biology. I thought it might be better self-care in college to let myself off the hook every now and then. B’s became ok and after having a semester with 16 credits, 2 part-time jobs, marching band, and commitments to several organizations, I realized I really could not do it all. While I got better at this practice in seminary, I still struggle with my definition of failing. My time with patients is helping them see the holiness in their brokenness, and yet I continue wrestling with that myself.
Should I not pass my candidacy committee, it will not mean I failed my candidacy committee. It will mean I have more things to work on and grow into before I am ready for candidacy. I know I am my own worst critic and that my continued growing edge is to not be so hard on myself. But old habits die hard. I was never punished or guilted when I failed…but often times I was overly praised by authority figures when I succeeded. What this means now is that when I fail, I feel the need to apologize to those around me as though I let them down. I took away others’ ability to be proud of me and, in turn, I cannot be proud of myself. Pride can sting as much as shame does, and I am learning that pride is indeed a form of shame. If I fail, I did not succeed, and therefore my authority figures cannot be proud of me.
I had a revelation in Orlando last Friday that if I do not make candidacy, I will feel as though I let the department down and that I have to apologize to them. My supervisor told me point blank that not making committee will not affect the department and its functioning. At first, I thought hearing him say that was his “quick fix” answer and was a way to move away from my fear. But instead, he was inviting me into my fear. What I fear is not external: it is within myself. He was telling me that if I fail, it does not mean I am a bad chaplain or a bad supervisory education student. It will not rob anyone from the opportunity to be proud of me. More importantly: I should still be proud of myself. It will not mean the department is in shambles. I won’t get fired. Quite the contrary: failing in this process can be a strength. Once I realize that failing is a possibility, it loses its power over me. Because it is perfectly ok to fail.
And if I pass…well, I guess I’ll have to get back to you. But it will definitely include chocolate.