Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Phobia of Failure

I wasn't a top achiever when I was in school. At best, I was just an average student. Well, OK, maybe just a little above average. I did realise the importance of education quite early in my life, of course, and how the number of "A"s I get in the exams would make my parents happy. I was basically a lazy bum for the most part of the primary school years, before I somehow developed a sense of wanting to do well in school in my early teens. Suddenly, failure became a dreadful thing.

But then different people had different definitions for that word "failure". For me, a score of anything below 50% is a failure. I reckon, perhaps the Malaysian education system considers that anything above 30% is a pass and anything below that is a fail. However, for some of my friends in school many years ago, even a "B" fell within the definition of "failure"!

I come from an era when the education system in Malaysia wasn't as ridiculous as it is today. Back then, only the cream of the cream got to score straight-"A"s. Today, an average student can fairly easily score straight-"A"s, or at least very near to it. If I were to randomly throw a stone to a group of students today, there is a high chance that I'd hit one who's a straight-"A"s achiever.

I can still remember when I was sitting for my SPM exams all those years ago. In the weeks and days leading up to the exams, I was overwhelmed by the fear of failure. Thankfully, however, as I said above, my definition of "failure" was a score of anything below 50%. So although I was quite confident of passing the exams, I had to make sure that things won't go the wrong way! I studied late into the night. In fact, I studied well past midnight for the physics papers. As fate would have it, my alarm failed to go off the next morning, and by the time I woke up from my beauty sleep, the physics exam was long over! A bit of an adrenaline surge; and then panic ensued. It felt like one horrible dream; except that it wasn't a dream at all! In the end, I was the only joker in my class that failed the subject!

Whenever I set my mind to achieve something, I practically put my heart and soul into it. Meaning that I'm willing to invest my time and efforts, perhaps making big sacrifices. I make proper plans to account for all the ingredients required to achieve my goal. In many, many instances, I'm bound to achieve what I set out to achieve sooner or later. But unfortunately there will be times when I can't control everything; and some things are bound to go wrong at the last minute. It is then that I will have to rise to the occasion; perhaps come up with a Plan B—a bit of a modification of the original plan; or maybe an improvisation. Damage control is a skill in itself. 

But not everybody is a born crisis manager; not everybody can think of an alternative plan on an ad hoc basis. For some people, they plan for things so perfectly all the time, and have all the factors well covered. In fact, so well-planned that there is no room for things to go wrong. But when things do go wrong somehow, they will crumble.

I read with interest about the kid who committed suicide when he felt that he didn't do too well in his math exam. When things didn't go as planned, he gave up just like that. Now I have said before that failure is not an option whenever I race marathons; but my requirement for a "pass" is quite lenient. Apparently, this kid's requirement is much higher—maybe even a "B" is a failure to him.

I think in a strange way, sometimes failure can be a good thing too. Most, if not all, great successful people in the world have had their shares of failures on the way to become successful. Very few, if any, would get it absolutely right on the first try; and keep getting it right all the time. Dealing with failures and then coming out of them stronger and wiser is an important skill to be learned, because nobody's perfect; it's impossible to escape from making mistakes once in a while. All we can do is to learn from those mistakes, and then try not to repeat them in the future. Hopefully we can become stronger and wiser from the experience. There is always hope as long as we keep trying!

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