By Pallavi Saha:
It all began after I started working. I grew up in a liberal middle-class family and was privileged enough to have access to good schools. Throughout school, I scored well and fared decently in college as well. Hard work for me meant doing my homework well, paying attention in class and trying and implementing what some of my teachers taught.
As simplistic as it may sound, that’s how I spent nearly 18 years of my life. It was only after I finished my master’s four years back that I experienced this crisis – a crisis where scoring was not a part of the game at all. Money came into the picture, and it felt good to be financially independent.
However, being a professional in the development sector, getting a raise or jumping designations was no longer my goal. I found it increasingly difficult to understand what I truly wanted. A voice deep down did tell me that its impact – the ability to be a part of the process that impacts lives was what pushed me to work harder and not the other parameters I mentioned before.
I kept finding myself out of place in several different capacities. While I loved parts of my job, I felt for the longest time that I failed to achieve the other parameters – not because of anything else but because I simply did not want to.
The culture of achievement excludes a vast majority of people who need their own time to figure things out – conveniently often labelled as ‘confused’ by many. The culture as mentioned earlier also excludes those who lack resources, where achievement takes a back seat and mere access and being able to afford education are bigger concerns.
Even within the urban middle-class population, the culture of achievement glorifies scoring or winning, in a sense setting standards and ignoring the fact that not every child or every individual would be seeking the same thing in the name of learning.
Pursuing a goal does inculcate certain values in every person – values such as those of hard work, determination and perseverance. We very briefly talk about failure. We talk about trying again and again but do we really talk about embracing failure?
The key lies in understanding that the process in itself is what equips one with the skills necessary to lead a dignified life, not the goal per say. And that means changing our relationship with failure – it means iterating, failing, improving and increasing our tolerance to failures.
Failure can be an asset if we are trying to improve, learn or do something new. Each time we fail, we have new options. Problems become opportunities. Deep down we all know this is true. We fear failure greatly – our mind tries everything in its power to prevent us from doing something that makes us feel bad, even if we know it will benefit us in the long-term.
Globally renowned tennis player, Shikha Uberoi, who retired from her tennis career at 27. She went on to study Anthropology and eventually started her own talk show to encourage social entrepreneurs. She opened her heart out while addressing a group of young changemakers during a conference, she said, “My life revolved around tennis, the day I failed, it was an existential crisis. I did not have a reason to live, since all my life, all I knew was tennis and winning. While it was tennis that taught me very valuable lessons, I realised that winning a championship or anything for that matter is something that gives you a high for a few moments – say, as long as you can hold the trophy high. The very next moment you are back to where you started. It is truly about enjoying the process and learning from it.”
More than achieving or winning, if we as a society also talk about failures, discuss them as much as we speak of achievements, and teach this in classrooms, we can aspire to look forward to a generation which does not breakdown when life throws bigger challenges at them. A generation where words like ‘acceptance’ and ‘love’ are heard more often than ‘fear’, ‘stress’ or ‘anxiety’ and in my capacity, I shall continue to strive to work towards creating a world like that.
I write this article not because the pain I experienced from failures is any less than it was before but I have gradually come to terms with the fact that screwing things up is not a diversion from your journey, it’s a part of it. I think it’s true when they say failure makes you strong, compassionate and more loving.