Big Strong Yes

So The Fear of Failing Is A Thing – This Week’s “Big Strong Yes”

In seems, being that everyone around me knows that I am awkward, introverted, and visibly uncomfortable when meeting new people, that it would be kind obvious that I would be panicked at the thought of standing on a stage talking to an audience having my photo taken by a horde of photographers, being on TV, making public appearances of any kind, really. – Chapter 4 , Yes to the Sun

I don’t think I’ve ever been afraid of being in public. I’m a weird sort of introvert in that I adore my own company. Sitting alone, reading, watching television, or just staring at my ceiling — this is my idea of a good time. But I’m good at being in crowds when I want to be. I used to think I was a weird idiot who couldn’t make friends, but I figured out in my late 20s that it’s not that I can’t make friends. It’s mostly that I don’t want to.

I auditioned for solos in choir when I mostly didn’t think I could sing at all. Thank God there was always someone more talented me. Good grief. I never really got nervous when I was in the school play, even when I got the lead. I never got nervous in front of classrooms, which is good since I want to be a teacher.

So I can’t really relate to the fear of public speaking.  But I get why this fear exists: because if you mess up in public, people will see you. And fear of failure? Yeah, that’s a thing I know really well.

I don’t like not being good at something. I hate not being the smartest person in the room. When I was in high school, if something was hard, I just stopped doing it. Better to fail because you didn’t make any effort, then to make the effort and fail anyway.  I would study for math tests and fail anyway. I studied for science tests. Failed anyway. So I mostly just stopped bothering. I passed high school on a wing and a prayer, and though the kindness of teachers who moved me along.

And then I decided to be a teacher.

This came much later in my life — I had already gone to college and done very well. At some point in my early 20s, I realized that the effort was what made it worth it. And failure could be a learning experience. I worked really hard in some early college math classes and got Cs, which sucked because I felt like I had tried so hard, but Cs passed.

I got lucky as an undergraduate — I was able to take really easy general education classes, and I had the right professors for the harder history and language classes. If I put in the effort, they put in the effort back, and I managed to graduate with honors and a double major, triple minor.

But I didn’t have to take a hard math class.

To be a teacher, to get into an official preparation program, in my state, you have to pass the Praxis Core. I needed a 150 in Reading, Writing, and Math. Even though I didn’t want to teach math, I was required to know it. When I started to prep with a friend, I started to lose confidence. I didn’t remember any of this math. I had never seen it.

Or more likely, I was sitting in the back of the classroom writing Roswell fanfiction and ignoring my teachers.

I failed the first few practice tests. My friend was zipping through it–she’d done better in high school than I had so it was all review for her. But I only had rudimentary algebra skills, a weird affinity for geometry, and nothing more advanced than that.

I took the first combined test and sailed through Reading and Writing, getting 196 and 190 out of 200 respectively. And then I failed the Math by four points.

A year later, I took it again. And I failed by eighteen points.

I had already put off my life for year to pass this test. If you don’t pass it, you can’t go in the program. If you’re not in the program, you can’t student teach.

Everything I wanted in my life hinged on me passing this stupid math test. And I started to think I was never gonna be able to do it.

If I didn’t pass the third time, I was going to have to drop out of the whole plan. Do something else. Go back to office work or customer service. I was good at those things, but it wasn’t what I wanted. No way I wanted to keep spending money I could never do. I just thought I was stupid, and I was really tired of working so hard toward a goal I was never going to be able to do.

I was terrified that because I had screwed up in high school that I was never going to get to be able to have my own classroom.  And being a substitute, working at a tutor with older students–I knew that teaching was what I wanted. I knew that I was supposed to be a teacher.

So I had to pass this stupid test. I bought more books. I found Khan Academy, and I taught myself how to do functions, and the advanced rules of triangles, and how to deal with quadratic equations and systems of linear equations. I learned the rules about circles and the formulas for density.  I worked really hard for four months.

And I passed by four points.

It wasn’t a spectacular score, but it was enough. I passed, I got into the program, and this spring, I’ll be student teaching. In May, I’ll be certified to teach K-12 Social Studies.

Math doesn’t scare me any more. I no longer get paralyzed by the thought of proofs or functions. It’s just something that doesn’t come naturally to me, so I have to work harder at it.

I still have a fear of failing, but I know how to channel that fear better now. I use it as motivation, not as an obstacle.

Series NavigationThe Struggle is Real, Y’all >>

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