A Reflection On My Biggest Fear.

Failure—the word itself makes me shudder. I hate the idea of failure. I always have and I always will. I’m not sure how it started, or why it hit me so hard that day in third grade when I couldn’t complete my homework assignment. I never liked to look stupid or give off the idea that I was ignorant of anything. I read the most boring books in the world, some on neuroscience, some on how car engines work, and I even read a book regarding the menstrual cycle, to figure out why it happened and what it does to a woman. Was I interested in any of these books or the information that they gave me? Not in the least. I was amassing information. I’ve always built up my mind, stockpiling information for that moment when everyone asks why, so that I can be the one to illuminate the answer to them all. To me, not knowing is as good as failure. 


When I was a child, around my house I was constantly aware of what it meant to be an underachiever and a failure. We moved so often that I didn’t even put posters up on my wall anymore and many times neglected to even unpack the boxes of my toys, with which I rarely played after a while. I saw my mother swear and curse at my father because he lost his bread delivery job, as she prepared her hand-written resume to work for another evangelist’s propaganda camp. Then, in the same hour, I saw her march through the house, proudly proclaiming that Jesus would provide for our family and that the money wouldn’t be a problem because of his provision. However, I had never seen a dime from Jesus and still to this day, I believe his check may have been lost in the mail. I saw failure every day. My big brother couldn’t read to save his life. He would get confused if “Buck Rogers” had a complicated plot that week.  He had decided that school was for losers and had completely stopped worrying about going to school, doing homework, or studying for tests. He was going to be a minister and, he believed, as did my mother, that Jesus would somehow pull out his heavenly check book and put him on God’s payroll. My big sister was sure that she was going to become a singer and therefore, never reached for anything more than singing every year in the church’s Easter cantata.  Each year she believed that this would be the year that a big record label producer would be sitting in our church of no more than four hundred members after getting a wild hair to prospect new talent in the wiles of Dallas, Texas. My family was the most centralized study group for failure anyone had ever seen. 


I would sit in bed at night and I would put my arms around my knees, rocking back and forth terrified that what I saw in my family every day was what destiny had in store for me. I wanted so badly to be successful. I wanted to be the man in the suit on the James Bond movies, proudly sitting at the poker table. I needed to be respected and sometimes feared. I wanted to be smart, wealthy, and powerful. I needed for everyone to know my name. I wanted to walk into a room and hear the whispers saying “hey, that’s (My name).” To me, failure was a punishment worse than death. Most kids, during the round circle discussions at Halloween, would proclaim that their biggest fear was either “being taken away from their parents,” or “to die.”  My greatest fear, then and now, was failure. That sooner or later, my intelligence would run out, or that I would hit the ceiling limit of how much my brain could hold, and I would end up being passed up by everyone else. I believed that the person who voluntarily slipped into ignorance was an absolute failure, devoid of anymore use or meaning to the world around them. They were just taking up space that may have been better used by replacing them with a rock. At least a rock can grow moss. 


I’m not a Christian now, but I was forced to read the Bible when I was a child and I remembered the Parable of the Talents, wherein the moral was to never bury your talent because if you do, you have erred. Intelligence is a talent. We among all of the species in the world are capable of it.  Therefore, I believed that the brain, except in cases of retardation, was able to retain and create anything that you put into it. I held such a respect for my brain. Whenever someone asked me if I believed that I was smart, I would always tell them that I had the makings of a genius. I still hold to this idea.


 I detested being called names like “idiot, stupid or retard.” Even today, in my adulthood, I cannot think of another verbal strike at my character that peeves me as much as being called stupid. I guess that would be the main reason that I stood up to my Special Education teacher when I did. I had certainly received criticisms from teachers and school faculty before that day, but it was different when she pushed me to my boiling point. Her attitude toward me was described so coldly in her words. She insinuated, without stating so, that I was an idiot. That I could not move forward in learning because I had been remanded to her classroom where all students were belittled by everyday “goo goo” baby talk, as if we were all just a pack of morons waiting for our next Nilla Wafer.   I hated that she treated me like I was stupid, but when she vocalized it to me, I blew up. I couldn’t stand it anymore. She had attacked the one thing in my world that I could hold onto for any hope of getting out of the squalor that my parents subjected me to. She tried to pull away my life preserver in a world where the only hope I had, not to become a carbon copy of my father, was that small ring of foam. That’s why I yelled at her. I didn’t want her to get away with it. I didn’t want to wait until all of the students had left the class and the door was shut. I wanted to degrade and tear her down among the pupils in that room and those listening in the hallway, just as she degraded me and tore me down every single day in front of my peer group. I wanted the whole school and my parents to know that (My Name) was intelligent and strong and wouldn’t put up with their attempted destruction of me anymore.


It was always apparent to me that there was something greater in this world for me. My nightly reading of the dictionary and the thesaurus was a means to an end. I wanted to be better than anyone else. I wanted the world to look at me and envy me. I read and I understood so that I could get an “A” on a test because it brought me one step closer to perfection. I wanted to let go of the mythological ideals that my parents believed and take responsibility for my own success, because it would bring me closer to perfection. I never gave myself excuses to fall short. Failure was never an option for me and it never will be. I need to succeed so that I can be the standard. I have to be better, faster, and smarter. I have to be perfect, or I am nothing.



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1 Response Mar 16, 2009

Anywhere, you did not ask for my advice, but this is something I need to work on myself, and since I see a lot of similarities between you and I, I thought to pass it along. Do something out of the ordinary for yourself. My new favorite activity is to treat myself to milkshake, and go sit on top of the parking garage on main street. I can see the whole town and think. It is out of the ordinary for me to take anytime just to sit. Or perhaps next time it rains, go outside and enjoy it without regards for what you are wearing or where you have to be next.<br />
I dunno if this comment is worthwhile. I can imagine you agreeing with me, or I can see you reading in disgust that I know nothing about you, so who am I to give advice? This is the only think I could think of. After reading your story (and not being able to find any grammatical errors to boot) and Boo's comments, I am at a lost of what to say. I wish I had the ability to put into words what you can, and wish I had the eloquence that Boo has when it comes to complimenting friends.<br />
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Am I making any sense? (You will find I ask that question a lot). My greatest fear is that others don't understand or misunderstand me. Which is why you have my respect. You can put so much into words that I can not.