Those who did not know me in high school and college are usually shocked to find out that I was far from the kind of girl who cries over a B+. I wasn't the one with her hand always anxiously raised in class and sitting on the edge of her seat, ready to blurt out the correct answer. I was honestly ecstatic about getting a B+ (unless it was a journalism course), and more often than not was avoiding eye contact with the teacher, day-dreaming, and only speaking when I was 100 percent confident in my response.
For most of my preteen and teenage life, I was reserved in groups and quiet in academic or extracurricular settings. I never needed to overachieve or stand out. In my group of friends, I felt like I had the least ambitious college choices; at New Trier, it was easy to feel a few steps short of moronic for the schools that fit your portfolio with a only slightly accelerated course load and an ACT score a hair shy of 30.
In college, I cared much more about my extracurricular activities than my grades (again, journalism courses were the exception). Granted, overseeing your sorority's philanthropy, having a leadership role at Hillel, interning and being involved in countless clubs is still far from insignificant, but I still felt seemingly average in terms of academics, successes, and achievements.
In my early- to mid-20s, I grew to despise failure. I became super competitive. I went from having more of a "Type B" personality in the academic and professional sense to being (maybe) as "Type A" as they come and much more relaxed about social events, expectations and happenings. With this shift, I found that I put insurmountable pressure on myself in most realms, especially with what I could accomplish professionally. I obsessed over not making mistakes, doing things perfectly, and being able to be my own Superwoman day in and day out.
On paper, I might have seemed like an illumination of success: I had a job, I loved the mission of and the people I worked with, I gained more responsibility by the hour, and learned something new every day. But in reality, I was crumbling. My anxieties were chipping away at me more and more each day.
The thing is, I didn't take failure as an option. I was so worried about screwing up or disappointing someone else, when in reality, I was really only disappointing myself (and okay, literally everyone else who saw through the facade and knew that I was struggling).
Then I started going to therapy, which as an avid hater of therapy since the year 2000, I was beyond skeptical about, but I had the biggest change of heart. In the last 18 months, I have gotten in touch with the voice in my head that was telling me I wasn't good enough or had to be a certain way to be good enough, have learned to control my anxiety (not all the time, but hey nobody is perfect), and how to set realistic expectations. What does this have to do with failure? Well, pretty much everything.
I've been listening to "Skimm'd from the Couch" recently, which is an amazing podcast that features female entrepreneurs and prides itself on avoiding BS and talking about the real stuff: hard days, failure, mistakes, rejection, coping, disappointment and more. On one of the recent episodes (or it may have been a teaser for a future episode -- in the spirit of being far from perfect, my memory has faded a bit) the guest was speaking about how her father used to have her and her siblings go around the dinner table and name something they failed at that day.
My initial reaction was how beautiful that was, when even as recently as a year ago, that notion would have made me roll my eyes and grimace. But if you don't fail and make mistakes, you can't learn and grow. I've been joking at work that I have probably made more mistakes than anyone (something, again, that would have been nausea-inducing for me to think about in the past), but I have learned and truly feel like I have developed personally and professionally each day.
At the end of the day, do I still daydream about everything being perfect, strive to be the best, and feel my veins are filled with a fervor for competition? Duh. I'm still me. However, I have learned to accept reality a bit more, embrace flaws, and (kind of ironically) am probably "failing" a lot less than I ever was before. It all depends on your perception, definition and perspective -- and mine are much improved.