I can’t sing … and other junior high failures

As I recall, it was a big week for me. With diverse interests, I tried out for the JV basketball team and my junior high show choir all in the same seven-day period.

To anyone who has ever heard me sing, it should come as no surprise that I failed to make show choir. Of course, my lack of vocal talent does not actually keep me from singing. This can be a problem for the guy next to me on the treadmill or for my landlord when he wanders into the basement and I’m on the bike trainer, as I tend to start to sing along to my iPod. Then again, I don’t have visions of scoring any kind of recording contract, so aside from protecting my fitness space, enjoying my time in the car and occasionally annoying Mark, my singing “career” has worked out just fine. But I digress.

Flash back to junior high. I tried out for show choir and didn’t make it. I also tried out for the JV basketball team, and was one of the first ones cut. I even ran for student government president and lost. (Wow. I never really counted all my junior high failures. It’s amazing I left my teenage years with any semblance confidence.)

But what I remember most about not making the basketball team or show choir (both rejections which came on the same day, by the way) was my mom entering my room and saying, “I know you’re disappointed. And it’s OK.”

It didn’t occur to me just how valuable that exchange was until I read a post by Peter Bregman at the Harvard Business Review on the right way to respond to failure. (It’s worth the read. Check it out.) To summarize his point: Often we try to help others feel better, to help point them to learning from their failure, to use it as motivation to work harder next time. But many times what’s needed is empathy. Someone to validate that what just went down, indeed, sucks, and that it’s OK to feel bad about it. In the immediate aftermath of a perceived failure, often I just want to have someone sit with me, put their arm around me and offer chocolate and/or ice cream.

That’s what my mom did for me on my day of junior high failure. She didn’t give me advice or otherwise try to spray sunshine on my gloomy disposition. She told me, in her own words, that yes, it was a bummer and it was OK to be disappointed. That was perhaps the best thing she could have ever done for me. I didn’t need to feel better. I needed to feel, even if the feeling was bad, so that I could find my own way through to the other side.

Acknowledging and honoring the bad feelings, addressing fear and rejection, help keep those “failures” from morphing into lingering voices of negativity. I know well about lingering voices of fear and negativity. You don’t have to dig too deeply in the blog archives to discover that. But oddly enough, those voices never mention the time I didn’t make show choir or the JV basketball team.

Wallowing, it turns out, can have its privileges.

0 Comments on “I can’t sing … and other junior high failures

  1. Knowing you, I would just generally assume you have a great mom. She probably did not do something else that helped you that many parents are guilty of these days: blame the failure on some outside source. It’s good NOT to be good at everything in order to find what we are good at doing.

    Congratulations on getting to a conclusion that many folks live a lifetime searching for.

    Great lost

    • I didn’t think of it until you brought it up, Jude, but you’re right, my mom (and my dad) never blamed failure on an outside source. As far as I can remember they never complained to a teacher or coach or principal about my grades or participation. While I am sure they would have gone to bat for me if there was serious injustice, every “failure” or set back was not a grave injustice. Sometimes you just didn’t make the cut. You could work harder or choose another path. And for all the ups and downs that come with that, I’m glad my parents let me find way to those decisions!

  2. Your mom is so wise and this is a great column…so often I want to not only listen to someone’s problems, but to fix them. My frustration at not being able to do this usually compounds the problem. I will take this advice to heart.

    Also, Amy…you may not have made the basketball team or show choir (trust me, you didn’t miss much!) but the things you were good at are so seldom recognized in life. You were always seemingly in a good mood, a great student and just so darn fun to hang around. You taught me a ton about how to take a joke (and how to give it back without any nastiness). It is pretty amazing, although it should be no surprise, how you are living your dream. I can only hope that my girls can learn to channel their “inner-Amy” as they grow!

    • Jeff: Thanks so much for the kind words. I’m truly humbled by them and reminded of how much we can teach others simply by being our best selves!

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