(For the past six years, I’ve used Reverb10 prompts to give myself a question to answer every day of December. It’s a great way to reflect on the year and set goals for the future. I’ve kept my favorite prompts, added a few from other sources, and created my own month-and- a-bit of questions.)
Lesson Learned. What was the best thing you learned about yourself this past year?
I happened upon a question at just the right time this year.
“Are you more motivated by success or failure?”
Suddenly things were in focus. In that one moment I realized something about myself that was really important. So important I can’t believe I’ve never articulated it before.
I have a low tolerance for failure. It crushes me, even if that failure is small.
I hate those stories of people who got cut from the team three years in a row but never gave up and finally got on the team after all those tries and scored the winning goal. I hate those stories of people who got the book rejected 100 times before finding success. It’s not that I begrudge anyone success – good for them. The narrative irks me. This idea that there is an inherent nobility to failure. Or nobility in slamming yourself up against a wall a thousand times without changing tactic. If you fail 100 times, shouldn’t you course-correct?
Also, I’d have melted into a puddle of self-hatred by rejection 5. I can not pick myself up off the floor that fast.
I am, however, motivated by success. Disproportionately motivated. If I feel like I’m good at something, doing well at something, I’ll try even harder.
This explains why I’ve stuck with running, and am struggling with Spanish. My running plan involved setting the starting bar really low, and only challenging myself a little bit beyond my comfort zone each time I run. I’d read that you should only increase your challenge with running 10% a week, and I’ve stuck to that religiously. As a result, I feel like an Olympic champion most of the time, and readily show up to get on the treadmill again to meet that (relatively easy) goal. Spanish is another story. I am behind on my memorization, regularly feel like an idiot in class, and feel like a failure at class, life … everything afterwards. Is it so hard to imagine why I might want to quit? I work all day. Do I really want to take time out of my nights to fail at something over and over again? NO! If it was fun, and made me feel good about myself, I’d go, but as of now it’s a struggle to turn up to class regularly.
So, going forward, I’ll be setting different goals with Spanish. Little bite sized goals that build my confidence. A verb a week, not 20. Seriously, this knowledge is going to change everything.
(P.S. Last time I wrote this.)