On failure, and greatness

I don’t usually do this, but today the post is an excerpt from my personal journal. I wrote it at the beginning of July, about a week after I went to Lis’ grad in town. Their principal gave this great speech that really hit me hard. It has been banging around in my head all summer, so I’d thought I’d share some of those thoughts.

I usually hate cliches, but when I heard that speech, this cliche stuck with me:

“We are not afraid of failure. We are afraid of greatness.”

At what point did I start holding myself back? At what point did I start letting the pitch go by? At what point did I stop using big words, or telling people the best way to do things, just because I wanted to fit in?

Maybe it was in second grade, when my classmates made fun of me for reading novels when they were still sounding out words in picture books. Or maybe it was in seventh, when I won that speech competition in front of the whole school, and the older kids mocked me for it in the hallways for weeks afterwards.

All I know is that by ninth grade, when my English teacher wanted me to voice my opinions in class, I didn’t even know how to anymore because I had spent ten years of schooling learning to make myself smaller than I was so that I would belong. I spent so much time learning to blend in, and now I’m eighteen years old and wondering why I can’t seem to get myself to stick out from that same crowd. Go figure. In the last few months I’ve been so frustrated because I felt like no one was recognizing my accomplishments, and now I feel so stupid. Of course no one cared; I wasn’t even trying.

It’s taken me a while, but I think I get it now. I am smart and capable, and I meant to do big things. I can’t limit myself just so that everyone will like me. My friends have often told me that I’m a little too nice, and maybe they’re right. Sometimes I care more about people liking me than I do about getting the job done.

The thing is, even when you know you’re good at something, you’re supposed to hide it and cover it up; they want you to pretend you’re not special. It’s ridiculous of course, because the things that make us different are what make us great. I know how to make tough decisions, and organize people towards a common goal. I’m good at speaking in front of large groups, as well as connecting with people one on one. Most of all, I have vision and ambition and I’m so full of idealism and hope, in spite of all of the bad things. I am made to lead, and I think that scares me a little. Failing is easy; when you’re at rock bottom you have no where to go but up. It wasn’t until I heard that speech that I realized that it is actually the idea of achieving greatness that terrifies me. I think I’m afraid that I really am as good as I think I am. The problem is that if I truly let myself believe that, then I open up this whole new terrifying world of possibilities, possibilities like crossing continents and breaking down barriers and influencing millions of minds. Possibilities like altering history; changing the world, even.

So yeah. I guess I’m scared.

There’s another quote that has always stuck in my head, a favourite of Lis’s:

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”

I never really got that quote, until now. You see, it’s not enough for someone to be smart or gifted. In order to change the world, or at least make an impact, you need to believe without a doubt that what you are aiming to do is possible. More than that, you need to believe that it is important and meaningful and right. You can’t do the impossible until you believe that you are capable of it. That’s not conceit, that’s faith.

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5 thoughts on “On failure, and greatness

  1. Kay, what a wonderful awakening. I know you will be a success in school and in life, Take care, enjoy the journey. Bill

  2. Such a beautiful post. I think you summed up my feelings about growing up exactly. I’m stealing your/Lis’s quote and hanging that up in my bedroom 😉

  3. Your blog inspires me so much.

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