I’m afraid of a lot of things. I’m afraid of my world falling apart like it has in the past; I have an irrational fear of falling off my bed while sleeping; and I’m really afraid that Tony will reevaluate his stance on cannibalism, and I’ll wake up to him gnawing my arm off.
The one thing I’m not afraid of, though, is failing.
I don’t mean just failing at getting a date or failing a physics test, though I’ve gotten used to both of those things. I mean falling short in something you threw you whole being behind, in an endeavor that encompassed your entire existence while your were working on it. I mean when you try out something new, whether it’s acting or a sport, and despite your efforts you make a complete fool of yourself.
The failures that change who you are, because I’ve come to realize that people, all of us, aren’t the sum of our successes but the collective fragments of our failures. They pile up over the years and slowly define who we are.
Be bad at things, be embarrassed, be afraid, be vulnerable. Go out on a limb, or two, or twelve and you’ll fall, and it’ll hurt. But the harder you fall, the further you’ll rise. The louder you fail, the clearer you future becomes. Failure is a gift, so welcome it.
My failures are abundant, but one has plagued me since childhood. I can’t catch things. Not just thrown. I even drop things when they are put directly into my hand. I’d like to say that it’s genetic, but it’s not.
My roommate, Sam, decided to take it upon himself to “cure” me of this “defect.” His treatment consisted yelling my name while throwing something at the same time, usually whatever was closest: wadded up paper, a tennis ball, his phone, cups from 4th meal. Little things. One time during study hall, though, he screamed my name and when I looked up, expecting a pencil or his keys, I was greeted by the sight of his stapler, fully loaded, hurtling towards my face. Putting my training to use I reached out for that stapler and I missed it by “that” much. Luckily, my desk chair swivels so I was able to dodge. I’m sorry to report that his catch-all cure didn’t work.
This failure is one of millions that piece me together, because it is only through failing that people discover who they are or what’s most important to them. After messing up, at the crossroad of “try again” and “let it go”, failure tests your resolve.
My resolve has been tested over and over while pursuing my goals. I have decided to follow the completely improbable and mostly finically barren route of being a writer.
I was warned by many people to be prepared for rejection, but at the time I didn’t know just how much. In the past year I have submitted my work to fourteen different contests, magazines, and scholarships. I have been rejected from twelve and I’m still waiting to hear back from one. Yes, those twelve rejections hurt. Yes, I feel like crawling into a hole to die just telling you about it, but my resolve to be a writer wouldn’t be nearly as strong as it is today if it wasn’t for all the failures I’ve had up to this point. I wouldn’t be as sure about this being the right path for me if I hadn’t failed so miserably.
I’m proud of my failures. The ones I’ve already made, the countless more that await me, together add up to the fruits of my labors. Years from now, when I look back, my failures are what will define me.
So I’m standing before you to propose a Renaissance of sorts. Ok, listen carefully, because this is important. Like me, you will fail. All of you.
Some might be thinking I’m crazy, but you will fail and it’s inevitable. So, fail here where there is a community of people willing to support you when you do, before the obligations life eventually brings becomes overwhelming, because despite what you may think, you don’t suddenly turn into an adult when you enter college. You start becoming one the second you’re born, except it’s a slow, sweet beginning. So, fail here. Be bad at things, be embarrassed, be afraid, be vulnerable. Go out on a limb, or two, or twelve and you’ll fall, and it’ll hurt. But the harder you fall, the further you’ll rise. The louder you fail, the clearer you future becomes. Failure is a gift, so welcome it. There are people who spend their whole lives wondering how they became the people they became, how certain chances past them by. Those people aren’t you; don’t let those people be you.
I promise you, this is terrifying, but embrace it. Embrace the new person you are becoming. This is your moment. Now. Not two minutes from now. Not tonight while you are avoiding homework while playing FIFA. Not tomorrow, but really now. Own that, burrow that deep in your bones and go to sleep every night knowing that and wake up every morning remembering it. And then, after you fall flat on your face with the whole world watching, keep going.
David Restaino is a senior boarding student at McCallie School.