Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Don't let fear of failing keep you from trying again.....

I had a conversation yesterday with a student who is very close to graduating with an Associate degree. Said student, (I’ll call him Tom as I want to protect the student’s privacy), is enrolled in a couple of classes this semester and then has only one more class left to take in the winter semester to complete his program requirements. However, the student came in to talk to me about possibly taking some other training or switching up his program of study at the end of this semester. I looked at him puzzled and asked, why, at this point, so close to graduation, would he decide to leave us.  The answer was simple, “Theresa, I don’t want to take CLASS XXN (not real name) because I tried it before and didn’t pass it, and besides, it’s really hard.”   

This type of conversation is not unusual in my office, but I looked at the student with sort of a surprised look on my face, and we proceeded to discuss the issue in depth.  It turns out that the student had indeed enrolled in the particular class in question a few years ago, discovered that it is a difficult class that requires a very long research paper, had some difficulties understanding the expectations of the instructor, and therefore, simply walked away from the class in the middle of it.  The course is indeed a challenging one, which is exactly why it is only required for students who are likely to transfer on to a university to pursue a bachelor’s degree, but each semester, more than 100 students successfully pass the class. Academically challenging? Absolutely!  Impossible? No way!

I looked at the student and I could see deep emotion in his eyes; namely, fear and apprehension.  The student had tried and failed previously. Not only that, but he had encountered other academic challenges along the way and had heard from other students how hard the class was. He was apprehensive and the class seems like too big of a hill to climb; therefore, he is thinking the best solution would be to just avoid the challenge; walk away from his dream of graduating; not even try.” For a few minutes, I recognized the thinking in the student because I have been in his shoes; thought those same thoughts; and actually ‘did nothing” for a long time when faced with personal, emotional, and physical challenges in my own life. Past failures; fear of failing again; apprehension; doubt; and a plethora of other emotions can completely cripple a person’s dreams and can simple one to give up; walk away; and do “nothing.” 

The ‘cheerleader’ in me kicked into full gear a few minutes into the conversation and I told the student that, “Unless he was 100% certain that he did not want his degree, that there was absolutely NO WAY that I was going to let him walk away without at least trying again.” After all, he was ONE class away from graduation: ONE, little, albeit challenging, class away from reaching a goal that he had been working towards for more than three years.  I assured him that I would personally help him; get him a tutor; ensure he got enrolled in a class with the instructor of his choice; introduce him to the staff at Academic Support Services; and be available to help him in ANY WAY I could so that he could pass the class……IF…and ONLY IF…..he decided he wanted to try again and put forth a sincere effort.

The decision will ultimately be up to him, but I will be so disappointed if he doesn’t at least try; he is SO close to graduation. He walked away smiling. Whether or not he chooses to return next semester is yet to be determined; but at least he knows that if he decides to pursue his degree that at least ONE person on campus believes he can do it and will do whatever she can to help him succeed. His success, however, will all come down to HIM; HIS commitment; and HIS determination.   “How bad do you want to graduate? What are you willing to do to reach that goal? Are you REALLY going to walk away from your dream….because you failed before; you are afraid, AND you know it’s going to be hard?”

Amidst the sometimes stressful moments of my job, I am blessed with conversations like this. After the student left my office, I silently thanked God for that appointment, because I was the person that benefited most from the interaction with the student. It was almost as if I was giving myself a ‘pep talk” about issues that challenge me…ironically the same ones that students and many other people (like you all) struggle with on a regular basis.  I thought about all of you; all the e-mail and messages I’ve received recently but have yet to respond to; all those who have reached out to me asking for help and sharing the stories of loss/despair/pain.  I thought about my own journey and how I did exactly what the student was contemplating doing: I did NOTHING to improve my health and well-being for many years, simply because, “I’ve failed before; it’s too hard; I’m afraid…” It definitely is easier to give up and do nothing, but I cannot expect something to change if I’m not willing to do my part.  This is the same thinking that caused me to just “exist” or so many years when life got really hard.  “I tried before to lose weight and I failed, therefore, I’ll just quit trying.” “It’s going to be too hard; I’ll NEVER be able to do it; so I’ll just do nothing.” “Frankly, I just don’t care about…….”  Although my thinking was not about completing a class to graduate, the thoughts of fear; doubt; apprehension, etc….controlled my actions….or lack of actions.  The result: I ended up over 400 pounds and unable to walk, and I had more than a diploma hanging in the balance: I was a walking time-bomb physically and emotionally.  BUT….it didn’t have to be that way!!!!! Thank you, God, for not giving up on me!

I cannot force my student to enroll in that last class; the decision lies solely in his hands. I cannot pass the class for him; I’ve already taken and succeeded in that class many years ago. I cannot write his paper; do the research; put the effort into the coursework; it will be up to him.  But, I can…and I will…..offer support; cheer him on; point him to available help and resources; remind him how WONDERFUL it will be; how GREAT it will feel; How empowered he will be when he is handed his diploma next May; but he will need to decide how bad he wants it.  And, I can remind him…..over and over and over again if necessary….that a past failed attempt does NOT make him a failure; a challenging class does NOT mean it is IMPOSSIBLE: and fear does NOT have to cripple his dreams.  He can…..and he will….succeed…..if he is willing to try; believe in himself; take advantage of the help available….and put forth the effort…..but he has to at least TRY. And if….he sincerely tries…and can’t do it…..well, then he can try again….and again….and again if necessary!

My friends….many of you have the same type of thoughts plaguing your mind.  You WANT to be free from addiction; you WANT to lose weight; you WANT to give up smoking/drinking/gambling/gossiping  (whatever); you WANT to have healthy, happy relationships; you WANT to be a better person; feel healthier; make better decisions……but…’ve tried before and failed. Maybe you’ve lost weight and gained it back (really…who HASN’T done that at some point?????) Maybe you’ve gone 3 days; 3 weeks; or 3 years without a cigarette or a drink….but in a moment of weakness you gave into temptation and all your hard work was in vain (it wasn’t….even 3 days is better than No days). Maybe you’ve gotten through the entire day without being negative, but you get home from work and the house is a mess; the kids haven’t started homework; and your partner has had a bad day (and of course, it’s YOUR fault….NOT!) and you suddenly feel as if you want to explode…..or eat junk.

So….you’ve had a bad day….or week…..Are you REALLY going to give up?  Yes, life is hard. Yes, it’s challenging. Yes, you’ve tried and failed…..but I’ll ask you the same thing I asked my student:  WHAT do you want more?  How BAD do you want to succeed?  Are you really willing to quit trying…..because of a bad day…..or a week?  The decision is ultimately up to you….but I encourage you to really think about what you want to do.  I cannot do it for you….but I can promise you that I will do whatever I can to help you. I will support you; I will cheer you on; I will continually remind you how wonderful it feels to be ‘free” from that which threatens to rob you of your peace, health, and joy. And mostly, I will tell you that I believe in you and I KNOW that you are capable of doing it……but you will never succeed if you don’t keep trying!  Your self-worth isn’t dependent on succeeding EVERY time and EVERY thing. Your value doesn’t lie in being PERFECT; being THIN; being rich; whatever….your value comes from being kind, compassionate, generous, and loving.  I define success as TRYING again and again and again……  Come on now, Don’t give up!!!!! Next year at this time, my student will have a college diploma to hang in his room; what will you have?????  The decision is yours!!!