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.

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