Thursday, November 12, 2015

On Failure

I have a desk. And a computer. And responsibility.

Ten years ago, I worked for an independent professional baseball team. I started as a public relations intern before moving up to Media Relations Manager after my first season on the job. It was hard work, with a lot of hours at the ballpark, and I wasn't very good at it. This was especially true when it came to the most important component: sales. After less than a year on the job, I was "laid off" the day after the end of the 2004 season.

I had failed before - the occasional bad grade in high school or college, relationships that didn't work out, less than stellar performance at the job that helped put me through college - but never to this magnitude. When I told my mother about the full time position, she had been thrilled. "Your son is gainfully employed!" she told my father.

It occurred to me recently that I had never figured out how to generalize failure. I never saw the loss of a job for what it was, as something on the same scale as those other issues, just bigger and therefore just as possible to overcome. I had graduated with honors despite those occasional bad grades. I had met the woman I would eventually marry despite those other failed relationships. I just needed to pick myself up again and move on.

Instead, my already fragile self-confidence broke. For the next decade, I worked at jobs that rarely required me to take risks. Back Room team member at Target. High school paraprofessional. Direct support professional. Every so often I would talk about wanting more, but it always came down to one thing: no responsibility meant no chance of failure.

Until a year or so ago when I told my boss I wanted to do more. I was a new father for the second time, soon to learn that numbers three and four were on the way, and that sparked something inside me. I was scared of failing at something again, of being proven unworthy, of having ten years of voices in my head by proven right.

But all that was outweighed, for a brief moment at least, by the thought of my children. How could I encourage them to reach high if I myself had given up the first time things got hard? How could I expect them to attempt great things - to attempt ANYTHING - if I was afraid to do the same?

My boss agreed that I was capable of more than I was doing and ultimately offered me a position despite my insistence that others would be better choices, or my descriptions of the myriad ways in which I could fail, or my outward expression of the war between No You Can't and Yes You Can taking place in my head. If you can say nothing else positive in my favor, at least say that no one else in the history of the world has ever tried so hard to talk his way out of a sure thing.

As things were starting to get set up in my workspace, my boss looked around my small office and casually noted that I could decorate however I wanted. The next day I brought in two things that had been in my car, my previous "office": a picture of my wife with all four of our kids and the prayer card from my grandmother's funeral.

The family picture was a no-brainer. My wife has always supported me and told me I'm better than I think I am, and my children are the most important people in the world to me. Those five people are the reason I do anything. I want them close to me.

And my grandmother...there's a story I've told about her many times that only recently struck me for its relevance (this is not an uncommon theme in my life). When I was nine or so, I wanted to learn to ride a bike but had no one to teach me. So the task fell to my Mum-Mum, then in her mid-60s.

We went into her driveway and worked at it, but at some point I started to fall. Though I caught myself, the bike knocked her over. She rolled across the ground and bounced to her feet, laughing and encouraging me to give it another try.

She's gone now, and I've forgotten that lesson too many times. You fall down, you pick yourself up. Something knocks you down, you pick yourself up. As many times as it takes.

I have a desk. And a computer. And responsibility. People are counting on me. And I am going to fail, most definitely, to varying degrees. And when it happens, I'm going to look at my wife and kids and remember that no matter how poorly I do at work on a given day, their smiling faces and excited yells will greet me when I walk in the door. And I'll look at my grandmother's card, the one with the Irish lullaby on the back, and remember that I need to laugh, pick myself up, and try again.