This particular week was tough because, on top of all that, I also failed at something very big and very important to me. After a massive, if overdue, effort this month, it finally became clear on Friday that I will not be able to finish my thesis and graduate this semester. I will be repeating the term, reworking the thesis, and resubmitting it.
I’m unfortunately the world’s worst procrastinator. That’s partly because I’m stinking busy. I’m seriously just insanely busy. But I also procrastinate because I have a proven track record of putting things off to way, way past any reasonable limit and then still getting them done at the last minute.
In high school, when it came time for graduation, I realized I was missing a semester of English, a half-semester of practical arts, and a full year of biology. I’m not sure how I got to the last month of school before realizing all that. But the important thing is that I still graduated through an impressive combination of grit, luck, and persuasion.
I actually think that if I were still in business school, I’d be able to pull this thesis off and graduate next month. In fact, I think I finished my entire business school final project in less time than this. But in business, there’s an unhealthy respect for getting a lot done very quickly. We actually say things like, Don’t let great get in the way of good.
You didn’t misread that. We really do say (and sincerely believe) that it’s usually better to get a lot of good work done efficiently than to get a much smaller amount of great work done. So someone like me who can get months worth of work done in a couple weeks actually comes off pretty well.
But not so in nursing school, where the process itself is emphasized more than the volume of output. Every section of the final paper has to be submitted individually and in order, with no single section ever considered good enough not to merit multiple revisions.
Still, it’s not the school’s fault that I failed this week. And it’s not the fault of the universe for combining against me. And I sincerely don’t think that my failure this week was part of God’s plan for me (although that’s a convenient thing to say when I fail). It’s really happened just because I just put off important work, because I wasn’t consistent enough, and because I was too confident in my ability to get it all done at the last minute.
Failure is funny because everyone knows that the road to success is marked by lots and lots of failure along the way. But in the midst of a current failure, it’s hard to take comfort in this since the road to failure is also marked by lots of smaller failures along the way. So what if this is just one of many stops on my road trip to ultimate, devastating, irreparable failure in life?
With all that hovering over me, I’ve been a nightmare to be around this week. I’ve been devastated and grumpy and pessimistic. At one really low point I asked Wendy what she’d think if I just walked away from everything and lived under a bridge. She immediately reminded me that all my problems would still be there even if I were hiding from them. Sleeping under a bridge wouldn’t change the fact that I’m not graduating this semester. Plus I bet it’s uncomfortable.
So what could I do instead? I kept working. I re-read some of the book of Job. I re-read a biography of Abraham Lincoln. I worked all day in my back yard. And I went to church today.
Thank goodness for all that. Especially the part about going to church. A friend of mine taught the lesson in Sunday School this week. She had confided to me the day before that she was feeling intimidated by the upcoming lesson. She was particularly challenged by the thought of presenting a lesson that would somehow benefit a single person in the room.
The real goal of teaching is not to teach a lot of information or doctrine. And the goal is certainly not to show off or come off as polished. The goal is to invite the Spirit into the room and to allow at least one individual in the group to feel comforted, uplifted, and inspired. But it’s quite challenging to reach that one person when you have no idea who they are or what they need. It’s a LOT easier to just show off and come off as polished.
Well, she succeeded today. As it turns out, I was the one person in the room who needed the lesson. And it reached me. I was flooded with inspiration and introspection throughout the lesson. My mind went all over the place from the Old Testament to the most recent LDS General Conference.
By the end of the day, I realized this little failure for what it really is: just one small sidestep on my eternal journey to learn and improve. The only way I can really fail from this is if I let it change my behavior in a way that I become rude, difficult, argumentative, and critical of others just because I happen to be having a hard week.
So the only failure I really had this week was that I was a pill to live with and that I let myself pull back from normal service to others. Twenty years from now, I’m not likely to look back with a whole lot of concern that I graduated in April 2015 instead of October 2014. But I know I will look back with deep regret if I allow this little hiccup (and all the others headed my way) change who I am and the good I can do in the world.