It’s time for another one of these, I guess…
Back when I was still a young V, I was something of an over-achiever. I started talking at 8 months old, I learnt to read at around 4 years old, and I was just very curious about everything, so of course, I was told I was smart. I liked being smart, but it took a lot of knowing, and that took a lot of reading and talking to smarter people, aka older people. And so I spent all of my childhood and most of my teenage years being nicknamed bookworm and walking encyclopedia and why google it, when you can ask V?
I took a lot of pride in it. Unfortunately, what made me very good at getting good grades and acing exams made me terrible with people, arrogant and elitist, not to mention terrified of failure and unwilling to try anything I wasn’t good at from the start. There was no greater sin than not knowing something, be it the answer to a maths problem or some random bit of trivia. Then, when I was twelve and on the brink of that great unraveling that is adolescence, I moved to a different country where all my achievements were useless and I couldn’t even speak the native languages (plural), much less demonstrate my knowledge of the world. On top of it all, I was still very bad with people (and people, in turn, were very bad to me, but that’s an entirely different story).
It sucked. Oh my god, did it suck. I was so depressed and anxious, I developed some severe health issues on top of everything else, because the profound shame of failure permeated every aspect of my life. I spent my teenage years terrified of speaking, in case I made a mistake. I learnt three languages at the same time, almost forgetting my native one. I tried so hard and failed so much, it was unbearable. But somehow, I made it through, went to University and went on to… fail even more, actually. My life has been a neverending crisis, sometimes with multiple catastrophes happening at the same time. It’s mostly why I think and speak about my own life story in terms of existential crisises: the points in time where I fail and have to stop, reassess, question myself, then start over and rebuild.
May 2022 was one of these points. In 2020, I got laid off from the job of my dreams. I wasn’t by any means happy in my workplace, but it was where I wanted to be and taking the first step towards an actual, honest to goodness, Career ™ after years of bullshit deadend jobs. Quarantine came next and I tried to do something else, something I also like and am frankly good at, but I failed once more and went back to the bullshit deadend jobs. At some point in 2021, I decided I was done. I wanted a stable job, I wanted something tangible, I wanted security, and for the first time in my life, I was willing to sacrifice anything for it. So I started studying for a public sector job.
See, here in Spain, the State jobs are the best jobs. Well-paid, no overtime, plenty of paid time off, and once you pass the exam, it’s yours for as long as you’ll show up for it. But maaaaan, that exam! It’s mostly laws and regulations that you have to memorize down to the last comma. Which is hard in the best of cases, impossible when a bunch of other catastrophes stress you out while you’re trying to study. So I went to take that exam in May 2022, and unsurprisingly, I failed. Spectacularily.
It was very hard, mostly because I was so used to exams being my thing, the one thing where I did well always, no matter what. The worst part is, I knew I would fail before I even set foot in the examination room. I knew no miracle was coming. I knew I was facing disaster. And I still went inside.
Why? Well, we come back to Brené Brown and that Winston Churchill quote. The man in the arena. I might get beaten up. I might be dragged in kicking and screaming. My dignity doesn’t matter here. What matters is, getting there. Giving my best, even if my best isn’t enough. Risking myself and my sense of worth, then coming out alive and changed.
I’m very bad at failing, but I think I’m getting better. I’ve tried rock climbing the other day and I’m thinking of making it a monthly thing. Have I mentioned I’m terrified of heights?