31 October 2006

Learning to deal with failure

Of all the challenges I've face, I find it most difficult to deal with catastrophic failure. I'm not talking about having just one bad day, but when they stretch out so far, that you can no longer see the horizon of when things used to be great.

I've alluded to my own personal turmoil in this blog, but I'm writing about it directly for the first time. I don't want to get into details but a couple years of extreme pressure and stress got to me. Shortly thereafter, I had to deal with a family crisis. I couldn't work or sleep for a very long time.

My self-respect and confidence sunk to an all-time low. I'm at a new place now and people don't know the formerly exuberant, confident, academic superstar me. What am I supposed to say to them? Yeah, I think I'm a good person who fell on some hard times and you just have to believe me? I get sick of making excuses anyhow. I know some of my colleagues are losing their patience.

I count all the times I missed a class or seminar I should have been at, when I let my advisor down, when I stayed away from my friends, when I missed someone's retirement party, etc. The memory of failure itself becomes a burden. Sometimes I just feel helpless and want to stay in bed.

Life has improved dramatically, but it's a continual struggle to get back to where I used to be. I seem to improve and then I hit a plateau and have to fight to get up the next hill. This is the part that is draining and perhaps surprising for me -- thinking that it's finally over, but realizing I still have more work to do.

I'm finally at the point where I'm feel well enough that I can chip away at both the things I should have done and what I should be doing. However, it's daunting to look at the pile of things I hoped to accomplish and remain undone. This burden makes it difficult to focus on what I should be doing now. I know I should burn some bridges and forge on, but I'm reluctant to do so. And there is the question of pace. Should I take a break and relax now and then? Should I go all out and power through my troubles? I don't know what I'm capable of anymore.

It's difficult when I have a bad day or when I can't sleep because I begin to fear that the nightmare will begin again and I start to give up again. I have to tell myself, "No, that's over. It's just a bad day and only that."

I think about the future me five years from now. I don't think I will regret helping my family. I do worry that I'm not keeping a positive attitude, that I'm not trying hard enough or that I'm dwelling too much on failure (I never know which to think) -- and that is going to cost me five years from now.

I make it sound like I'm depressed, but really the dominant feeling is frustration. I'm writing this entry in the hope that it will help me soldier on to the better days that await me. I want to get up every day and do my best. I think that's the most anyone can hope for -- not to be bitter, not to expect happiness or success -- but to do my best and earn my own respect and in doing so be content with that.

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