I would not be just a nuffin'
My head all full of stuffin'
My heart all full of pain.
I would dance and be merry
Life would be a ding-a-derry
If I only had a brain
Breakfast: Raisin Bran
TODAY on DVD
OH, IM A FAILURE...
27 May 2004
Oh, Im a failure, because I havent got a brain, says the Scarecrow in "The Wizard of Oz."
He then, without ...uh... thinking about it, becomes the "brains" of the whole operation, figuring things out logically, making the decisions, and being the primary guide of Dorothys journey to the Emerald City, and from there back to her home in Kansas.
I dont know what got me thinking about "failure" yesterday, but I decided that if I were a negative person, I could look back on my life as one series of failures after another. I think that this thought process got started by lunch with a friend, who is going through a life crisis and feeling like a failure at the moment. As we talked, I found I would nod my head in agreement and reply "Well, when that happened to me..." and bring up some aspect of my life that had also ended in failure.
It was actually kind of overwhelming, if I allowed myself to dwell on it. When I look back over some of the major blocks of my life, it seems that most of them--not all--but most of them have ended in some sort of gut-wrenching failure.
The first big failure, I guess, was dropping out college, an embarrassment that has been with me throughout my life. I never learned how to study in high school, UC Berkeley was the wrong school at the wrong time, and I had no sense of direction in my life. It only took a couple of minor set-backs to cause me to give up. As someone who had rarely received below a B grade before starting University, getting my first D...and then F...was a sign to me that I should just give up. And I did.
But that "failure" led me to one of the most rewarding periods of my pre-married life. I did what I wanted to do after high school anyway--I got a job as a secretary. My strongest skills have always been clerical and I was a damn good secretary. That job did not end in failure; I quit when I was expecting Jeri, and that 4-year period of life still stands out as one of my biggest professional successes (and I am still friends with my former boss, how retired from the faculty of Carnegie Mellon).
There were "failures" along the line in the early years of motherhood, too. I came on like gangbusters with LaLeche League. I took over as editor for the newsletter for California, Hawaii and Nevada, founded the group here in Davis (the current leaders look on me as some sort of folk hero, I think) and was an active part of the governing body for LLL nationally. But then there was a big disagreement. I raised money all year for two different years to take myself to the national convention and both times just before the convention, I was told that the money needed to be given to the previous newsletter editor, for reasons I have now forgotten. I ended up parting company with LLL and never heard from anybody in the governing part of the organization again. I wanted to go out with my head held high, but in the end, went with my tail between my legs.
It was a similar experience with The Experiment in International Living. After hosting 70 students myself, placing students from all over the world in homestay situations, doing last-minute crisis management, having glowing letters of recommendations from people who had stayed here, being on the "Presidents Board," one of a hand-picked number of 30 people around the country to be invited, I was "fired" because one student reported that my house wasnt clean. I was brought in to a small, dark room on a hill in Vermont, with fall color blazing outside the window, sat down facing a panel of five people who had never visited my house and had to listen for 20 minutes about what a slob I was and why I could never again be permitted to host a student. It was one of the most humiliating experiences Id ever had.
Until, that is, I ran into Sutter Medical Foundation. Prior to Sutter, I had been let go from two different jobs. The first I was essentially let go, after 7 years, because I worked too hard and didnt charge enough. It was an emotional reaction by my boss and years later she told me it was the biggest mistake she ever made in her professional life, but at the time, it was a terrible blow to my ego.
I went from there to another typing service, where I learned medical transcription, became the instructor when the business was sold and I trained the new owner on both medical transcription and computer software. One morning, again after 7 years with the office, she said "Oh, Ive decided to close the business. Youll have to find a new job." She never did close the business, but I was out of a job instantly, without so much as a "thanks for all you did." A huge blow.
From there I went to Womens Health Associates, an office Id worked for through the typing company. I was there 10 years as their in-house transcriptionist until the office manager had to quit. A new manager took over and lasted exactly two weeks. I was then offered the job and took it. I took the job with no training, no degree, no experience, but a thorough knowledge of the office, fierce loyalty to the doctors, and frustration with how things had been working. I took over at a time of maximum chaos and was the person who guided our move to a new office building and settling in under the new ownership of Sutter Medical Foundation. I managed the office for two years.
Out of the blue one day, in shades of my Experiment in International Living experience, I was called to the office to "plan next weeks activities." Well, it was a sabotage. I had been quite vocal in expressing the feelings of the doctors in my office when I met with other managers and higher-ups, and this apparently did not sit right with the powers that be. I was told that nobody liked me, including the doctors I had been supporting, that I was unable to get the degree they needed quickly enough (hitting me where I was most vulnerable--my drop out college record). They hammered away at my shortcomings until I was sobbing. I played into their hands and submitted my resignation (they didnt have to pay me unemployment because technically I wasnt fired). As it turned out, it took them nearly a year to find a replacement and they are now on their 7th office manager, as nobody can last more than a few months....one manager never made it through training.
I dont know how long I would have lasted at Dr. Gs office, but at least I was in charge of leaving that job, though the next job I took ended without warning when I was told that it "wasnt working out," with no explanation of what exactly that meant. I was told to leave immediately and my self-esteem was crushed, since there had been no hint of dissatisfaction and I assumed I was doing a very good job.
While Im on a pity party, there was moving into this small town neighborhood, expecting to join a community of good friends, only to find myself an outcast, and being told "Nobody in this neighborhood likes you. You should never have moved here." That was 20+ years ago and most of the same neighbors are still here.
And we wont even talk about the dieting failures that have plagued me throughout my life, since my first diet at age 10, and how worthless it makes me feel to watch myself put back on the weight that I worked so hard to take off over the past few years, yet somehow unable to stop myself.
(There is also, even though intellectually I know it's not my fault, a sense of guilt about two kids who died prematurely, both partly because of heavy drinking and acting stupid and a father who disowned me for telling him how I felt.)
I also think of a number of people I always considered very good, very close friends who suddenly disappear without a word of explanation, leaving me to assume that surely it must be my fault, or that our friendship lasted only until somebody better came along.
I went to a Kaiser therapist right after Gilbert died. That was also a disaster--she and I were not a marriage made in heaven and seeing a therapist at Kaiser can be entirely too depressing! But one of the tasks she gave me to do was to draw a cartoon to express "me." She then forgot to ever ask me to show it to her, but I probably would draw a similar cartoon today. It showed me as a worm, slithering along toward a group of people talking. I then raise up on my hind end and join in the conversation and they find me witty and funny and they are liking me until someone takes a really good look at me and discovers that Im really just a worm, whereupon they turn their backs and wont have any more to do with me.
I dont feel quite as much like that worm as I used to, but, at age 61, when I consider going out and doing new things joining an organization, getting a job, making a good friend, etc. I find that I am more leery than I used to be. I have a somewhat indomitable spirit that is going to keep me going no matter what, but Im also more cautious now. I dont want to be rejected by anybody--a friend, a club, a job. These days confining my activities closer to home has a much greater appeal to me than it used to.
Perfecting PhotoShop techniques, learning new ways of altering books, and doing things
that I can do solo and that aren't going to have people suddenly discovering that I'm
really a worm after all, just seem much safer to me these days.