During the first year we lived together, my best friend and I were completely obsessed with Fail Blog.
We’d email each other about it all day long and then get home and rehash it over uncontrollable (disproportionate to the level of entertainment value) laughter on our living room floor.
Every time something bad happened we’d said “fail blog” to commemorate it. “Another one of my kids just got expelled, failblog.” “I woke up too late to shower and my bangs are sticking to my forehead, failblog.” “I almost pooped my pants after the Chipotle burrito buffet at work, failblog.”
We spent entire Sundays communicating exclusively in hand gestures and “fail” or “success” blogs.
Three years later, I failed the Multi-State Professional Responsibility Exam. Failblog.
You see, no one fails the Multi-State Professional Responsibility Exam. No one. Especially not me. I don’t fail(blog) at anything. Ever. I win. I achieve. I succeed. I flourish. I get everything I want. I am the walking epitome of 28-year old lady perfection.
At least that’s how I think I should be.
Failure has got to be one of my top three most uncomfortable feelings. Reading my MPRE score resulted in the immediate and intense onset of nausea, followed by the sensation of wanting to run away from my computer, travel back in time, and/or hide from my friends and family. Forever.
All day I moped around in self-loathing. The internal dialogue went something like, “damn Katie, you are a complete moron. What’s wrong with you?” Of course the MPRE fail couldn’t stand on its own as an isolated incident of my complete lack of preparation and disregard for the exam. Oh no. I used it as a barometer for how I’m performing in every other aspect of my life: Survey Says? Terribly.
I suck at standardized ethics exams. I suck at deciding what I want to do with my life. I suck at relationships. I don’t have a job. Or a boyfriend. Or a house. And oh shit, I crashed my car a month ago, so I don’t even have one of those any more. Man, do I suck.
Every time I’ve failed at anything, as far back as I can remember, I’ve struggled through the same set of feelings and observations. This has contributed to two patterns in my life:
1) I don’t like to do things I’m not already good at.
I’ve had a paralyzing fear of flying since I was 8 years old, so I barely ever fly. I’ve had very little romantic success in my adult life, so I barely ever date. I rarely hang out with people who are not already my closest, most intimate friends. I order the same thing every time I go to a restaurant because I know it will taste good.
2) I never give myself a break.
I practice yoga six times a week, at least. I feel irresponsible and inadequate if I don’t. I wear a size zero, in everything. If my pants get a little tight or my tummy pooches any detectable amount, I feel like I want to stop eating for a week just to get “my” body back. Any time I’ve gotten really drunk since I was 19, I’ve felt guilty and ashamed for a week and a half.
These two: stories, behaviors, ideas, can really suck the joy out of a pretty awesome and abundant life. And in the aftermath of my most recent failure, I’ve considered taking a different approach. What if I observe the failure instead of absorbing it? What if I assess how I could have done better, commit to it for next time, and then let the whole thing go? What if I fly, date, mingle with strangers and it’s a total disaster? So what?
I’m struggling now to learn that I can’t always look the way I want to, act the way I want to, perform the way I want to. And that’s fine. This is a radical revelation. But it’s clear in this moment that no amount of hiding, avoiding and attempting to control has prevented failure in my past, so chances are good these strategies won’t work in the future.
In August, I will re-take the MPRE.
In the meantime, I will try to take one failure at a time, reminding myself that it’s ok to: have a bad flight, date, test, day, week, month. I will recover. I always do.