“What didja get?” I asked Nick, who sits beside me in French class, when he got his quiz back.
“I got a B,” he said. He gave a short, mirthful laugh. “I didn’t even study!”
“Émilie,” said the teacher, handing back my quiz. I’d gotten an A. But I’d also studied pretty hard. And somehow I, who had studied and gotten an A, felt like I was stupider than Nick, who hadn’t studied and had gotten a B.
I pondered this.
I had the opposite problem in my fiction writing class. I dashed off a charming short story, preparing myself to be praised and affirmed by my teacher for my original concept and specific details, only to receive a B+. I was startled and hurt, and then I tried to logic my way out of those feelings.
“You’ve gotten far worse grades,” I reminded myself. “You can still get an A in the class. Besides, you kinda deserved that B. This is a 400 level class. You have to put in some effort.”
I couldn’t entirely logic my way out of my feelings, however.
It’s one thing to get a B on a physics project or something, but this is writing. This is something I’m supposed to be good at.
No, scratch that. This is something I’m supposed to be good at with very little effort.
There’s a difference.
The catch to the story is this: My teacher allows us to re-write our stories for a better grade. My B+ was not set in stone. But I’d have to set up an appointment to talk to her about it. I’d have to face up to my failure.
A guy I know (let’s call him Bill) ceaselessly whines about his terrible life. I mean, nothing goes right for poor Bill. He’s had the worst luck imaginable, and the people in his life treat him terribly, disappointing him again, and again, and again.
Except, what Bill doesn’t know is that his life is fixable. Maybe not everything, but some parts are. Everyone in Bill’s life can see it except Bill, because Bill cannot entertain the notion that he might be wrong.
“Sometimes you have to be wrong to fix your life,” I ranted at Bill in my head. But then I felt like a hypocrite. Because similarly, sometimes you have to be a failure to fix your grade.
I swallowed my pride and went to my teacher’s office hours to ask about how I could re-work my story.
Owning up to that feeling of failure was about much more than a better grade. In re-writing my story, I became a better writer, one step closer to becoming the writer I want to be.
The times I learned the most interesting things were the times I allowed myself to be stupid, like when I joined a robotics club while knowing nothing about robotics. The key to repairing and maintaining my relationships with my family members has been pinpointing the areas where I’m wrong and owning up to them. (Or, sometimes, pretending they’re right while still secretly thinking they’re wrong.) And things like sewing, that I’m good at, came at the price of failure after failure after broken-needles and seam-puckering failure.
Sometimes, to become the person I want to be, I have to be a stupid failure who is wrong about things.
(This blog post was partly inspired by this article, which is a fascinating read if you have the time.)
Very nice Emily – and that’s a great article.
Transparency! Transparency is usually a good thing!
I want to bend over backwards and say brilliant here, but the effect of this essay on the audience is unsettling — and I know that is not your purpose.
When our narrator fails to execute the changes her instructor recommends, she has failed the whole point and purpose of the essay.
I edited the post for more clarity. Thank you for pointing out that confusion! I did, in fact, decide to re-write my story.
Enjoyed your article.