This is what I thought when I sat down in my first real math class in second grade. Well, probably. To be honest, I don’t remember what I first thought when I opened my math textbook-the orange one with the compass and fern on the cover; YOU know the one-and suddenly felt like I was being asked to decode ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. All I know is that the day I opened that textbook was the day math and I became mortal enemies. I was Harry Potter, math was He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, and we were about to engage in what would become an epic, decade-long battle to the death, complete with flying broomsticks, Hippogriffs, house elves, and movie deals. Probs.
The point is, I’ve always sucked at math. ALWAYS. *cue collective sobs from the HP fandom*. As a kid, the idea of “failure” is as murky and inconceivable (cue collective appreciative nods from the Princess Bride fandom) as the idea of, say, chicken nuggets suddenly tasting disgusting. Failure happens to grown-ups. Failure is what happens to people who make bad choices. Failure isn’t something that just out-of-the-blue conks you on the head in the middle of math class. You’re just a kid! You have a Powerpuff Girls backpack! Bubbles would never be a failure, so how could you?
Math was the cause of my first foray into the dark and scary world of failure. It’s even scary to write. FAILURE. When the numbers suddenly stopped making sense, I got my first taste of failure. It was gross. I didn’t like it. I would glance at my classmates around the room, sort of panicking, hoping to catch someone’s eye and silently ask them, “hey, is it just me or is this the most confusing thing ever?” It was frustrating and more than terrifying when I eventually realized that I was alone on Math Island with nothing but a pencil and a dumb orange textbook to save me. Gilligan and Friends were off at recess while I was being given extra time on my Mad Minute worksheet, and it left me feeling embarrassed and alone.
The thing about failure-especially when it affects you at a young age-is that it tends to stick with you long after its unwanted introduction. Because of my struggles with math, school wasn’t as fun. I was terrified that the same thing that happened that day in math class would happen in one of my other classes, and that I’d all of a sudden become the number 1 dunce in the entire 2nd grade. Instead of enjoying the learning process, I worried about it. Failure was real, it was a thing, and I did whatever I could to avoid it. At an age when I should have been worrying about birthday parties and Disney channel, I was having nightmares of failing grades, failing school, failing my parents, failing, failing, failing. The anxiety started. I didn’t want to go to school anymore. I used to love school.
But the reason I decided to bring all this back up after years of trying to forget it is because I SHOULDN’T forget it. Sometimes it’s painful to remember times when you’ve failed. As an older and (hopefully) wiser version of little 2nd grade me, I realize now that my failures with math were the motivation I needed to delve into my other studies. I loved learning about nature, animals, other countries, and especially books. As the years went by and math got even harder, I got stronger. I studied. I got tutored. Not a math test went by that I didn’t study extensively for, even if the final grade was still considered a fail. Even on days when I wondered why I was trying so hard just to get a 50 on the next quiz or test, I kept opening my textbook and trying again. It was really hard. I cried A LOT. Sometimes, it’s easier to just crawl into a failure-ball and hope the storm will pass. But I refrained against the failure-ball! I kept at it until that blisteringly hot day when I received my diploma, and proved that, though math was the bane of my school existence, it didn’t have to be the bane of my WHOLE existence. Failure had conked me on the head and I conked it right back.
The Fear of Failure ingrained itself in me at a young age, but I consider myself lucky. So many kids are exposed to toxic environments that teach them that failure is the end-all be-all of an experience: if you fail once, it’s all over. I’m proof that it’s NOT all over the first time you fail. Even though I’m still new to this whole “Adulthood” thing, I know one thing for sure: Adulthood-perhaps even LIFE-is all about failure, and what you do with it. Although my math grades sucked, (like, REALLY sucked,) all the effort I put in to math and to my other studies and interests proved that my “failure” didn’t define me. There wasn’t a giant cone-shaped cap on my head signifying to the rest of the world that I was a failure, and there never would be. As JK Rowling said, “It is impossible to live without failing at something.” JK Rowling’s Harry Potter manuscript was rejected 14 times. Just look at her now.