New Graduates, Go Forth and Fail
Is it really June 2019? I’ve thought about this date for quite some time and somehow assumed I would be more prepared.
My oldest daughter, Kathryn Marie, is graduating high school. When she was born, I had so many dreams for her. I prayed she would have the strength of her grandmothers, for whom she is named, that she would walk proudly into the world with confidence, that her intelligence would allow her to achieve great things but her compassion would drive her to dedicate herself to helping others. To my absolute astonishment, she has exceeded my every wish. Looking back, I can see how much pressure I have placed on her. As she embarks on her next chapter, outside of my watchful reach, my only hope for her now is that she faces down her fears and takes risks and believe it or not, I hope she fails.
With the skyrocketing cost of education, there are some very real reasons young graduates feel they can’t afford to make mistakes, but I argue they can’t afford not to. That’s my greatest wish for all graduating seniors. Go forth and fail!
Fear is the fence that surrounds our comfort zone. I know this first hand. Frankly, I’m a girl who likes living in my comfort zone. But taking risks and even failing, have taught me so much in my life.
I started at Channel 6 fresh out of graduate school. During one of my very first live reports I thought I’d make the report more interesting if I walked down the courtroom steps while talking to the camera. You can imagine what happened next, right? I stumbled down the steps and then completely forgot what I was saying. I rambled on for an eternity before regaining my train of thought. I learned a couple of important things. First, steps are not my friend. Second, carry a few bullet points in case you lose your train of thought. That was just the first of many “stumbles” on live television. I’m constantly pushing myself creatively. Some of my ideas work and many don’t. But, after the embarrassment wears off, I try to think of what they have taught me.
After working at Channel 6 for a few years, I realized how much I loved the weather and wished I were a meteorologist. It seemed too late to start over again. Switching paths was not only a risk for me, but would impact my whole family. I dragged my feet for way too long before deciding to go back to school. For three years, I worked full time while going to school at night studying geoscience. I had two small children and a new baby on the way. I spent every night and weekend studying, praying my kids would forgive me for missing out on so much. It was a tough decision but one that has brought me so much joy. I wake up every morning at 1 a.m., and even at that hour, I’m usually smiling heading into work.
Facing down fears has been something that has affected my personal life too. My husband and I talked about fostering children back when we first met as students at Rutgers University. We had a lot of love that we wanted to share and thought fostering a child would be a good way to do it. Honestly, fear kept me from doing this for decades. Finally someone asked me a great question, “What would you do if you had no fear?” I knew for me it was becoming a foster mother.
My husband and I spent an entire summer taking classes and then getting home inspections. We worked with a local charity and the state. In the end, we were so lucky to bring the two most wonderful boys into our home. For about a year, we had five kids going to four different schools. It was hectic to say the least. I’d be lying if I said it was easy and every day went smoothly. But, it was one of the most meaningful years of our lives. They’re back with their mother now and will forever be in our hearts.
It’s hard to imagine how different our lives would be if we had stayed in the comfort zone, afraid to take risks. When I think about my daughter getting ready to embark on her own journey, I hope that she won’t let the fear of failure stymie her. I spent years of my life worrying about making a wrong move. Looking back, I’m so grateful for every person who has helped push me and every situation that has tested me.
To my Kathryn, and all of the new graduates, your life will not be perfect. It will likely be complicated, messy and uniquely your own. Drop the expectations you think have been placed on your shoulders and believe in yourself enough to take a gamble. If you find yourself on a path that doesn’t feel quite right, create a detour. Ask yourself what you would do if you had no fear of failure, and then forge forward. If you should stumble and fall, acknowledge that feeling. A little embarrassment is good for the soul; it teaches us grace and humility. Let it drive you to be more compassionate to others who seem to need a helping hand.
Seek happiness and find joy in both your success and failures; both will shape you. If you’ve never failed, then you’ve never pushed yourself to your limit.
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Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 16, Issue 3 (June 2019).
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