Big Strong Yes

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

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series 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.

Big Strong Yes · Life Updates

The Struggle is Real, Y’all

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series Big Strong Yes

“Because when I was a struggling graduate student in film school, I often had no money. And so I often had to choose between wine and things like toilet paper. […]

It was wine or toilet paper.



Toilet paper.

The toilet paper did not always win.”

– The Year of Yes, Shonda Rhimes

Girl, if that doesn’t describe the entire experience of graduate school, nothing else does. I analyze my sleep with Fitbit because I like horror stories, and I average, in a good week, 6 hours. But most weeks? 5 hours.

So on Tuesdays, I buy romance novels when they come out. I don’t always read them right away — they go on a digital TBR like a sweet candy treat that I can have when I get to a major deadline. I’ve got about six waiting for me.

You gotta figure out how to get through the day.

And I’m saving the wine for the end of the semester.

Big Strong Yes

A Creative and Silly Kid – This Week’s “Big Strong Yes” Story

This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series Big Strong Yes

So, in the podcast this week (The Naughty Bits) from Big Strong Yes, the hosts, Lani Diane Rich and Dr. Kelly Jones, decided to change up the structure of the show since Shonda Rimes’ Year of Yes is a memoir, and the other books were more self-help. They’re going to tell their own stories.

I’m hoping to keep up better with this book than I did with Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, so to keep me honest, I’ll try to share my own story inspired by each week’s reading.

“I’ve lived inside my had since I was a kid. My earliest memories are of sitting on the floor the kitchen pantry. I stayed there for hours in the darkness and warmth, playing with a kingdom I created out of the canned goods.” – Chapter 2, Maybe?

The way my mother tells the story, I’ve been reading almost since I could walk. My father likes to tell a story about reading me a book when I was four years old and correcting him when he mispronounced doily as dolly. I picked up books my parents left around the house almost from the moment I surpassed my reading level in first grade. In my house, this means I was reading old issues of Reader’s Digest, newspapers, V.C. Andrews, and Stephen King before I was eight years old.

I told stories, too, from an early age.

I imagined myself living in the world of my cousin’s Baby Sitter’s Club books and the Sweet Valley High series I read. I wrote stories pretty steadily until I was about sixteen years old. I started with real people fanfiction with stories about Hanson, Backstreet Boys, and all the other celebrity crushes I was obsessed with as a pre-teen. One of my stories was over 200 hundred pages hand written. My high school best friend told me she had kept one of the chapters where I married her to AJ McLean.

I stopped writing after a house fire destroyed all those old manuscripts for about two years. I also stopped reading in the same way. I don’t know why, but I think it might because I was starting to become more comfortable with who I was — I was the chubby redhead who was never going to magically grow taller and prettier, but I was funny and I was smart. And it was okay. For the majority of high school, I stepped out of my old comfort zones, and I think I didn’t need my books and stories as much as I had before.

Or maybe I got tired of my family telling stories about my stories as if they were something silly and to be ashamed about.

When I was in fourth grade, I was put into a gifted kids program. I was smart, but I didn’t really do my work, and my teachers hoped I would do better with more advanced material. At least, this is the way my mother remembers it. I only remember one thing about the program: being laughed at.

I don’t remember the context, but we were talking about mermaids and how they weren’t real. And for some reason, I pushed back. I said we didn’t know everything about the ocean, so how could we say for sure what exists and doesn’t? The other kids laughed at me, and my teacher was concerned enough about what I said that somehow my mother found out. I didn’t tell her, so someone must have.

I think back to that moment and I don’t think there was anything to worry about, but shortly after that, I was dropped from the program. I don’t know why, and my mother isn’t sure either.

Now my mother never gave me reason to believe it was something to be concerned about, but she and my family love to tell this story. They love it. This happened in 1994. I was nine.

It’s twenty-three years later, and my sister brought this story up a few weeks ago. She was six. She has no memory of this event, only from what the family has told her.

And it’s always told in a funny way. Haha, Melissa, remember how stupid you used to be? You believed in mermaids.

Well, yeah. So what? I was nine. Where’s the harm in that?

My mother spent most of my high school career wondering why I couldn’t or wouldn’t write anything real. Even now, she wonders why I don’t write books. Her dream, she told me, was for me to publish a book.

I don’t want to write books.

I try. But I don’t really enjoy it.

I love writing and researching academic papers. I’ve been published, and I’ve received awards for my academic writing. I’m one of the top students in my graduate program because of that writing.

I also love writing and reading General Hospital fanfiction. It’s my creative outlet the way that Hanson fanfiction was when I was thirteen years old.

My mother is proud of me, don’t mistake me there. And I think my father is, sometimes, too. But I still feel like the rest of my family thinks I’m wasting that story telling potential, and that maybe, at the end of my life, they’re going to remember me the same way they remember that mermaid story.

Remember Melissa? She was so creative, but she wasted it. How stupid was that? 

But I’m not wasting it. And over the summer, my first YES to myself was to put my writing on the same priority level as my studying. That was about 100,000 words ago.

So my family can remember me anyway they want (though let’s not have that happen for like….eighty years, okay?) but I know my story better than they do, and I’m working on that being enough.