I Am a Failure …
As a typical “Type A” music educator, and one who has ADHD to boot, these are words that have been DEVASTATING to me in the not so far away past. And because I am a human being, sometimes I am going to fail. How I choose to respond to that failure makes all the difference in how I process and learn from that failure and move forward.
Two years ago, I was excited to present a workshop out west. I had worked really hard to prepare and had loads of lessons and techniques to share. I was proud of the content I had to offer. As the workshop drew near, there was an emergency that caused the workshop to be rescheduled to the Saturday after my spring break. I had a fantastic trip to New Orleans with my husband planed for break, so I flew home from my vacation, and got on the plane for my session the next day. I failed to consider the effect spending a week in New Orleans below sea level and then traveling to the mountains out west in a 24-hour period would impact my body. I regularly hike at high elevations and have suffered only mild headaches; this time would be different. As I began the presentation my body started shutting down. I kept having to run to the bathroom to vomit. I tried laying down during the break, when I returned I patted my legs and they buckled from the elevation sickness. It felt like the WORST flu I had ever experienced. I did my level best to continue on, and I physically could not. I had to admit that I could not continue. I was devastated and ashamed. Many of the participants had traveled long distances to attend, and the Orff Chapter paid for my flight and hotel room. I had let them down. Later, when I was finally feeling better, the chapter president came by to check on me. I was so embarrassed and upset that I just kept talking really fast and apologizing over and over, which was not at all helpful. I did not handle it well.
Reflecting on the experience, there were some really beautiful things that I experienced from this “failure.”
- First, the folks from the chapter were so gracious and helpful. When I admitted that I could not continue, one member thanked me for taking care of myself. Another offered medicine to help with the elevation sickness. The women who drove me home told me that she was going to make me stop the workshop if I threw up one more time. They cared about me as a human, not just as a presenter and what I had to offer them. What a gift they gave to me. I think back on how they cared for me often.
- Secondly, I am a human being and I need to listen to what my body needs. This revelation has extended to every aspect of my life. As music educators we take care of everyone. Our families, our students, our pets, other teachers, our homes, our classrooms and we strive to meet the wants and needs of everyone around us. If my needs are not met, I cannot effectively meet the needs of others. Taking care of my body is not selfish. I can do a better job of what is most important, and not worry so much about what isn’t important when I am healthy and well rested.
- Lastly, sometimes things just happen, and it is not my fault and I can’t “fix It.” There was nothing I could have done in this situation to make it through the presentation. It just happened, there was no way to fix it. I spent WEEKS after this incident beating myself up and “shoulding” myself. I should have cancelled my vacation, I should have rambled less when I was feeling better, I should have drunk more water….none of these thoughts were at all helpful and I was miserable and upset for nothing. Now I have learned to acknowledge the situation, repair what I can and then move on. Being gentle with myself has made me feel better all the way around.
I am writing about this now, because a lot of us are feeling like failures. For most of us nothing is happening in any way like we have been used to and many of us are working with constantly evolving situations that make feeling successful a challenge.
- Let’s look for the beauty in our challenge when we can find it. It may be hidden and it is worth the search.
- Listen to your body, it will tell you what it needs. Eat well, sleep as well as you can. Rest when you need to, participate in joyful movement, find quiet when you need to recharge.
- Recognize what is in our control and let the rest go if you are not feeling your best. If you are choosing to exert influence in areas that are not in your direct control, have reasonable expectations for your work.
We are not “failing” right now, we are learning. Learning to live and teach in a new and different way will take a lot of mistakes and practice. What are you doing to keep yourself healthy and learning this year? Leave your thoughts in the comments so we can all Make it Work.