Sunday, 22 May 2011

The Impossibility of Failure

We all have a recurring dream - or two or three - which no doubt represents a fear, a state of mind or a phase in our journeys. One of mine is that I am due to sit a final year law exam in something tricky like Restitution or Conflicts of Law. In the dream I am unprepared; chronically and desperately unprepared. The remarkable thing is that even with the semi-conscious awareness that the sleeping brain always has that this is a dire situation, my dreaming persona is never as panicked as my awake mind would expect. In my dreams I never feel the desperation that seems to be almost a necessity in cases of not being ready to go on, to step, to speak. It's as though a part of my sleeping mind knows it's only a dream and that in the end I will wake up and all will be alright. Perhaps my sleeping brain remembers that I passed that exam 18 years ago. And even rudimentary dream analysis would tell me that the dream is a way of processing a fear or anxiety about being unprepared for something important.

What is fascinating too, is the degree to which the unconscious mind believes it can overcome the hardship or the challenge in each case. In the dream I am committed to getting to that exam, to working, rushing, pushing on, striving to overcome the obstacles, never so deeply perturbed or worried that I give up.  The dream usually ends before the exam is sat or the results handed out, but in those moments when one can cram, choose whether to attend the exam, consult the campus map or not (so as to find the right room), pack the pens, one does all of those things. Is this a reflection of a persevering personality or something else? Is it true of all of us - that we dream of possibilities, even if our conscious self would drop out of the race, give up, cry off? The dreaming self is so optimistic and confident, unsullied by all those gremlins and limiting self-beliefs that the awake self has to deal with.

Or is it that a some level we know it isn' real - that it is only a dream and no matter what happens we cannot fail?

Imagine living that way? Imagine believing you could never fail?

There are fleeting glimpses of this fearlessness in conscious life. Last night was the Off-Spring's school Dinner Dance and Auction fundraising event. Together with a wonderful committee of mothers, I and my co-chair arranged the event. Safe in the knowledge born from experience that the night could not be an unmitigated disaster but rather, some version of a success, I was quietly confident that it would all go well. I hoped we could match previous years' funds raised. If we could just create a nice atmosphere and a convivial evening of socialising and merriment, then we would have something to be proud of.

Well we did all of that. And we raised a lot of money - almost three times more than I hoped we might raise (pitching expectations low being a great source of gleeful surprise and smiling in so many things one does). The school now has an even lovelier fund on which to draw for various initiatives for the children as well as much needed building restoration work. We were blessed to have received 30 donated items that were both sought after and valuable. Strong interest, good ticket sales, delicious food, generous and supportive parents and an inspiring and dedicated staff and headteacher contributed to the rest. It was a great event. Every person who contributed to it in any way should feel proud to have been part of it's success.

Running a PTA is voluntary work, charitable giving, community work, if you like. Many of us do it or something like it at some point in our lives. But why? Some say that acts of giving make us happy. Some say that we do such things for recognition, or out of guilt or a sense of obligation. For some it is a way of giving back. For others it is to use skills that we might otherwise not have a chance to use during years of parenting or retirement or when we are not engaged in paid work. It may be to please someone, to impress or to persuade, to gain leverage or to buy good will, to learn something, or to teach something.

Whatever the reason, and there are a probably several in combination on any given day, we do it. Perhaps the why is not so important, in the final analysis, but it weighs on my mind, for there is the question as to whether to stay on for another year as Chair person. In order to decide, understanding my rationale or purpose is important - at least to me.

Part of that means one has to work out why failure on the part of some to acknowledge a success holds a sting. One has to know one's limits, one's priorities, one's values. One has to be candid and authentic about how best one can play a role and the potential conflicts that the roles one plays can create in one'e wider life and circle. One has to understand that whether one is motivated intrinsically or extrinsically, or perhaps both, one would not do it if one thought in terms of merely success and failure.

Which leads one to value perhaps the best part of any challenge; the overcoming of an obstacele and the learning that goes hand in hand - particularly about oneself, but also about others. And the knowledge that there really is no such thing as failure, just opportunities to learn, to grow, to give (and to take) and above all, to wear a pretty dress now and then!

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