Wednesday, October 3, 2007

(Kind of) Deep Thoughts: Women and Failure

I did a Google search on women and failure, and came up with little more than heart issues and sexual dysfunction. Not really what I was going for.

I'm interested, instead, on how women perceive failure, and how we handle it. Because, as I gain wisdom (read: get older), my own views on success and failure change on a daily basis.

Case in point: I used to be an elementary school teacher. For two years, I worked in ESE (Special Education) in an inclusion setting, in a school with a 70% low income population and lots of behavior issues. According to my supervisors and peers, I was very good at it. I loved my students, and they loved me. Well, most of them did, anyway.

So what's the problem? Every day, I struggled. Struggled with learning a new profession (certified by "alternative" means, I had no background in education whatsoever), struggled with managing a classroom (a profession in and of itself). But, mostly, struggled against my true self, and that's where I really ran into trouble.

Because while I loved teaching kids, and while I was successful, I wasn't happy. It's still hard to put my finger on -- the act of teaching was natural, but being a classroom teacher definitely was not.

Logic would dictate, then, that it's okay to move on. It's okay to do what is most natural (writing/editing/loving words, for instance) and make it work.

Except, it's not. Somewhere, and I think this is true for lots of women, I've internalized the idea that if I choose to stop, it's the same as quitting. And that's the same as failing. Because, as women, we're told we can (and should) do it all. That sounds great, but can be a beast that's hard to tame. Especially when we discover it's not true at all.

So here's my plan: let it go. Allow myself the pleasure of knowing what I love (writing, publishing, working with kids), and do what makes sense in that framework. I've already started: I'm creating yet another career through writing (woot! to that), and I'm volunteering to teach mini-art lessons in my son's classroom. I'm also mulling over the possibility of starting a writing workshop for kids through a non-profit organization I currently work with.

There's a difference, I'm finding, in being capable of doing it all, and actually doing what makes sense.

So, tell me: what makes you feel like you've failed? And how did you get past it? Comment at will.


Kelly O said...

Interesting thoughts! I'm not terribly into my career, which at this point is just a jay-oh-bee. So I would say I feel like a failure when I speak too sharply to my kids or am not patient enough with them. I try to remember that life is made up of lots of little moments and their cumulative effect, but I can't help but feel like an abject failure when I let my kids down.

Christine said...

This post is very interesting, because I still grapple with my decision to leave teaching. I taught high school Spanish for 18 years, and I was very good at it. But I too struggled with behavior, especially in the lower levels. And I simply wasn't happy doing the work.

There's so much that could be improved in public education, but that's a matter for another 1000 posts.

The conclusion you've come to is solid and true: listen to the rock star voice. You are that writer. You deserve to be happy AND enjoy your children AND have work that fulfills you.

Great post!

SusieJ said...

Just wanted to let you know that I'm thinking. Still thinking. This has been on my mind a lot lately, and I love the terms you have identified for yourself.