On: Failure and Grading Your Own Papers

I need to fail more.

To the younger version of myself (or at least the form of myself I’m trying to beat into submission), the worst thing in the world was getting a “B.”

There I sat, at my tiny flip-open cubby desk in the fourth grade (aka the only year before high school that I wasn’t homeschooled), as my teacher read off the correct answers on the math assignment (key word being assignment; not exam, not life or death situation--assignment).

I watched out of the corner of my eye as Stacy (names have been changed, not sure why it matters but whatever) marked off with her little red gel pen what I thought to be one too many “X’s” rather than happy faces.

*Pause to note this is a vivid memory for me.


My eyes widened as I saw six “X” marks on my paper, “but she’s not even done reading off the answers!” I had almost forgotten to grade Stacy’s paper, but I was way too much of an overachiever for that. My eyes slowly dragged themselves over to the grade scale written in chalk in the upper left-hand corner of the chalkboard: “A = 0-5 incorrect; B = 6-8 incorrect…” and so on.

The feeling that proceeded after reading the grade scale (which I had memorized, I mean c’mon) was that of emotional, physical, and spiritual death…to a nine-year old. 

This was the first, out of sensitivity to my old self I’ll call it a “non-A” grade, I had ever received. A year later, when I was homeschooled again and actually grading my own paper, I got another “B.” I wouldn’t speak to anyone the rest of the day.

My case was obviously extreme, but the theme of rejecting failure for fear of utter dejected defeat followed me all through life. I found myself only slipping into situations where I knew I could win, with the guise of them being “difficult” positions.

The look on my face when I run out of gummy bears. 

I’m going to go out on a limb and say there are a few other uncontrollable factors growing up that shaped me to be this way (my counselor might agree), but I think this is something that a lot of people go through: rejecting failure for fear of being rejected.

I felt as though I robbed myself of racking up more “B” experiences when I was in school because, for some reason, I played both drill sergeant and boot camp attendee.

But when that feeling continued on into my adult life, I knew it needed to stop. So now, anytime I have that crazed moment where I make up whatever “might” happen and project 16 steps out into the future and find myself stuck in a made up land, ticking off the repercussions, I think about who I’m really answering to: the voice of failure in my own mind I’ve created myself.

I think that’s the scariest thing: when we take what we’ve seen in life and turn it against ourselves, plugging up life from actually happening. When we let voices we filtered turn into our own thoughts and ideas about life and live like that is our reality.  

Don't let those go unnoticed. Don't let those voices speak for you. Don't reject failure for fear of failing. 

Photos from the Ace Hotel in Palm Springs