Dealing with failure*

My first year in college wasn’t pretty, academically or socially.  For two quarters, i coasted on what i’d learned in high school – mostly via osmosis, as i’d rarely cracked a book during my secondary education.  As is often the case, it caught up with me by the end of my first year – and i failed Calculus III** – a required course for my chosen degree program.


Tucking my tail between my legs, i went back to The Park to report out to my parents – who funded my first year***.  Mom was “disappointed”, and told me that i’d need to “buckle down” and get to work.  Dad took a different approach.


Rooting around through some old papers, he located his undergraduate transcripts.  Handing them to me, he asked me if there was anything that jumped out at me.  He had a terrible freshman year – even failing “Strength of Materials”.  This was, in fact, the course that he was currently teaching as an evening class at a local university.  He also only had one “A” during his undergraduate career – and it was in “Hygiene”.


Rather than lecture me, he went on to talk about “why” his first year was so bad.  It was early in World War II, and he was planning to enlist at the end of his freshman year.  Knowing that his eyesight was horrible, the only thing he studied that year was an eye chart – figuring if he memorized it, he could make the cut.


Invariably, they changed the chart before he went in for his physical, he failed and he was not allowed to enlist.  Tucking his tail between his legs, he had to go back to his second year at the university and recover.  He successfully completed the engineering degree program****, and went on to a productive career – and a life with meaning and substance – never looking back on that one academic failure. 




* “failure” is likely to be a recurring theme for me as i conjure snapshots of my life.  i suppose everyone has to be good at something, and i seem to be good at dealing with fuck ups…  Go with your strenghts, right?


** But hey, i got an “A” in Psychology 101, a “B” in English composition and a “B” in Analytical Chemistry!


*** i moved in with my future husband halfway through my second year (at 19 years old).  From that point on, i declared myself financially independent, and didn’t accept additional parental financial support – although they were quite willing to help.


**** A remarkable achievement, my father was one of the extremely rare first-generation immigrants to go to college in that era.  Typically, this didn’t happen for another generation.  He spoke no English until he was 8 years old.  How did this happen?  His mother understood the value of education, told him he was brilliant every single day – rather than focus on their miserable economic status – and that he was expected to continue and complete his education.  So very sorry i never knew her…