When it came to learning lessons in my early childhood, there were three main pinnacles of wisdom in my young life: my parents, theatre, and The Wizard of Oz. Yes, it’s true; by age three, Glinda the Good Witch, the Yellow Brick Road and good old Judy Garland had pretty much set me up for life with useful lessons that I’m still benefiting from today. One that has recently popped back in for a visit is a very important lesson about failure, which exists in my interpretation of a single line. In the 1939 film version of “The Wizard of Oz”, the Scarecrow laments to Dorothy, “Oh I’m a failure, because I haven’t got a brain”. This used to make three-year-old Chelsea very sad and sympathetic towards the dear old Scarecrow. “Why does that mean he’s a failure?” I thought to myself, sitting there on my kiddie couch, dressed up as a flying monkey. “He can do other cool stuff without a brain. Like jump really high into the air! And whistle!” Thinking retrospectively, now, I can see that three-year-old Chelsea had a greater philosophy on life that 18-year-old Chelsea currently does. And while I’m not entirely surprised, it’s made me realise that I need to get re-acquainted with these more innocent of ideals.
As teenagers and adults, it seems that we all too quickly lose sight of the bigger picture; we’re constantly having to remind ourselves that one negative aspect of our lives doesn’t permanently spoil the positive aspects. And that’s what baby Chelsea still had the ability to understand. The idea that no brain = failure, to my juvenile mind, always seemed preposterous because the Scarecrow had so many other talents – the one small fact that he didn’t have a brain didn’t mean that he wasn’t patient, loyal, kind, and a freaking great dancer.
I had to remind myself of this recently, when I went for my driving test to get my licence. I got to the testing centre, all pumped up and excited that I’d finally be able to drive by myself, and then two minutes into my test I didn’t to give way to an approaching ute and BAM, I failed. I FAILED. OH DEAR. After being handed the ominous pink slip stating how much of a FAILURE I was and that I was a TERRIBLE DRIVER who should NEVER be allowed behind the wheel, I walked to Hungry Jacks, bought myself a cheap frozen coke, and cried into it. Yes, there I was, on my eighteenth birthday, standing outside the testing centre, crying into a $1 drink. How pathetic.
Even more pathetic was that, for
several hours a brief moment, I considered lying to people about my failure. I racked my brain for some excuse. But then, after being told by my mother that it was sad and dishonest thinking it through, I decided just to tell the truth. Okay, yes, I failed my driving test. I stuffed up! I’m human! It happens to people all the time. By the end of the day I was admitting it to friends who hadn’t even known I was taking my test, and strangely it made me feel a lot better just to tell the truth about my failure. Sure, I failed this one thing, but that doesn’t cancel out all the other things I’m good at – like political debates, or making costumes from my wardrobe items, or eating ice-cream straight from the tub! However, I didn’t realise this until after a bit of a meltdown, and with it came another realisation. The fact that I considered covering up my failure in the first place is what got me thinking: why are we so scared of failure?
All throughout our lives we’re told that if we do our best and try our hardest, we will succeed. But this is a very unfortunate lie, as – being humans – we occasionally screw up. Sometimes, our “best” just isn’t good enough, and the “hardest” didn’t pay off – so it’s no wonder we feel crappy about ourselves when we fail. What’s more is that we expect others will look at us and see that we weren’t good enough, and we’ll be judged on that. But I say to hell with it. We need to stop fearing what people will think of us if we fail, because it will end up stopping us from trying in the first place. We need to stop letting failure polarise our vision of our positive qualities and making us feel bad about ourselves – because often we are our own harshest critics. And we need to stop confusing life lessons with failure, because really, the two are interchangeable; there is hardly a failure that you can’t come back from and use as a tool to make yourself stronger. It just takes a bit of work – kind of like a rehab. And like a rehab, there’s somewhat of a twelve-step program, with step one being admitting you failed – after that, it’s easy to see where you’ve gone wrong and to bounce back.
Because five days after admitting my failure with my driving test, I marched back into the testing centre and got my licence – and this time it didn’t end with tears and sugary drinks. So, dear readers, keep on failing! Admit openly that you’ve done so. Realise that it’s doesn’t annul your positive qualities. And remember to use it as a life lesson to push yourself to do better next time.
As always, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.