Wednesday, March 14, 2012

It's OK to Fail

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.

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