Rejection. Failure. Resilience.
I imagined it all in my mind. It was going to be amazing. I was going to go from place to place and help. I would show others how to do things in a new way; how to innovate their teaching. I was going to learn more new tech and strategies, try it all out, and help others apply them every day. I would be helping teachers help students learn better. I would really be involved in changing the status quo; making a real difference! It was going to be my best teaching year ever...
And then I got the answer. It was a no. One of those "thank you for applying" but "there were many highly qualified candidates and an offer was extended and accepted" nos that leave you torturing yourself.
Stomach churned. Face flushed. I was upset.
My mind was going a million miles per second coming up with all of the possible answers to this question.
Am I not qualified enough? Is my experience lacking? Did I not present my skill set well enough? Was I too audacious in including an infographic CV instead of a traditional Word resume? Am I too out there for them? Did they read my blog and saw that I use profanity in some posts? Was the position created with someone already in mind? Did they have a shoe in as I was afraid? Do I not network enough? Do I not know the right people? What could I have done better? How could I have proved myself? What more should I be doing?
In such times, each question births several other questions. The frustrating part is that I will never know why. What's worse, I did not even get a chance to interview. To show. To prove. To wow.
I am feeling how much rejection and failure suck right now. At moments like this, I so want to believe that things happen for a reason. There must be a lesson I'm supposed to learn here and now. Still raw, I search for it.
Feelings come and lead me to question everything I am doing, my skills, and things I believe about myself and the world. And I realize this is similar to how our kids feel when they fail at something really important, or when our students have trouble understanding concepts. I see this all the time in chemistry. Trying over and over, some students end up feeling inadequate, not good enough... It's so hard to keep trying in the face of repeated failure. We tell them to not give up, to have a growth mindset, and to keep going. But rarely are we mindful of what we're asking for.
School came easy to me, but I am learning to relate. This is why it's important for me as a teacher to talk about my past, but especially present failures, and explain to my students how much they hurt, and how they make me feel, and what they often lead me to think. Just as much as I need to feel to be able to process, learn, and move on, I must tell my students to allow themselves to feel, so they can keep believing. I want them to believe in themselves, and to believe that they do have the skills to be successful, and that they are acquiring new ones, and that things do happen for a reason, and that failures do make us stronger, and they do allow us to become better.
I truly believe that rejections and failures allow us to learn and do it differently, hopefully better, the second time around. But, I believe that only happens when we allow ourselves to feel and process the negative feelings. They are valid; things we all feel, but it seems these days we try to focus on the positive by not allowing a hint of the negative, and that is perhaps sick. Suck it up and grind it out has become our motto, but it's bullshit advice that discredits real feelings. I'm sure every Pollyanna has her Debbie Downer side. Why does she have to hide it?
Never does this become more apparent than in moments like these. I definitely had the inclination to not talk about it; to hide being rejected; my failure. It hurts and it's easy to just say fuck it and move on.
But if I just pretend it didn't happen, then what is it that I'm learning?
Promoting that failures are something to be ashamed of, I am regressing not growing. But worse, I am perpetuating fear of failure, stifling my own and my students' growth, and shying away from teaching my son that when life kicks our ass, and it will, and it will hurt, we take our time, but we get up. We allow ourselves to feel angry, disappointed, doubtful, fearful, and frustrated, just as we let love, hope, optimism, courage, and joy fill us at other times. It's more than okay. It's necessary.
It builds resilience.
Take my hero Tiger Woods. I never liked golf, but when he played it, I loved it. Whether alcohol was or wasn't involved in his recent DUI arrest does not matter, because regardless of what was in his system, it is clear the dude is hurting. Something is obviously wrong, all the while he's making statements that everything is going well. But you see, he is indoctrinated into a society that always puts a happy face on in public. We do not talk about The Real. We are taught not to complain. We are not allowed to feel down. God forbid we talk about the negative emotions we all experience out in the open!
And here's the really sad part. Most people would forgive quickly if he just spoke the whole naked truth instead of just suffering in silence. Most people would understand, because they have had painful experiences or tough periods in their life, and they would feel his pain. Jack Nicklaus, the golf legend and a friend Tiger looks up to said that Tiger needs our help. Problem is, he's taught not to ask for it. Problem is, we talk about empathy, but in many professional environments don't allow the conditions for it to flourish.
I hope Tiger gets to 18, but it is increasingly looking as though he might not, because as his body keeps failing, his mind is breaking down as well. He chooses to suffer in silence and I fear he pays a heavy price for it.
The truth is that we can't just be positive all the time. To be mindful, we must allow ourselves to feel. Only then can we truly move on. Hurtful things happen. We're rejected. We fail. We feel negative feelings and that's OK. It's important to help our students understand this and validate their feelings. I really believe they'll be better equipped to learn from tough life experiences and become more resilient.
Being denied something we really want and have the passion and skills for is often hard to talk about, because we feel somehow deficient. Not getting the Tech TOSA job I wanted, or even a chance to interview, I experienced this very pattern in my mind. Am I doing something wrong or not doing something? This is how my mind keeps second guessing everything, but I remember that I've failed before and will live through rejections again. I may not be rejection proof, but I am resilient.
But I wasn't always. It took a lot to get to a point where I can feel the bad and the ugly, respond with strength, and move on to the good. Many of our students are not there yet, and when they are raw, they respond the only way they know how. That's different for everyone, but everyone has the right to feel. Not wallow, but feel. All of it, not just the positive.
When we do we see more clearly.
My son ran up to my car as I was pulling up at his daycare school. Coming back from a neighborhood walk, he was laughing at me happy to see me. I ran out of the car and he ran to me and gave me the big hug and kiss I really needed and I realized that he is my biggest success. I sometimes tear up thinking about how lucky I am to have him.
When he was born a little over three years ago, I made a commitment to become a better human being; someone who can model for him how to live well and love unconditionally. I want to be a good father and it is important to me that my wife and son are proud of me. But I don't need them to say it. I just want to live a life that helps them see it every day. It's because of my son I started changing how I live, learning how to live, and looking for meaning in everything I do and that happens to me. Life's never random and it always teaches us something. I'm ready.
As many of us, I grew up sucking it up, but I am no longer afraid of my negative emotions. So here's the renewed commitment I am making to my wife, my son, my students, and myself. From now on, I am allowing myself to feel it all. I will be present and work to understand my own and others' hard feelings. I will listen. I will learn. I will change lives.
We all have the power to change the world. Let's join forces and crush it.