On Shame and Failure

“The young think that failure is the Siberian end of the line, banishment from all the living, and tend to do what I then did – which was to hide.” –  James A. Baldwin


I remember growing up and being a very intelligent child in Primary School. Then I went to Secondary School and it all went south – I was always in the bottom half of my class, and that’s putting it mildly.

Honestly, I didn’t really care. I was a young an underage child that was literally thrown to the sharks. And I was happy to still be carelessly living from day to day, until the period before the end of the school year. I did not have any problem with failing and having to repeat the school year. The only thing I feared was the shame of having my friends shame me. I already knew that shame from home. My mother was constantly comparing me with my sister and threatening to withdraw me from school to learn a trade. Still, I wasn’t prepared for the full dose so I managed to wing it till JSS3. Just before JSCE, I summoned courage to suggest to her that I would not want to proceed with formal education again. I was tired of failing. I had found my calling.  Hairdressing.

“We shame you as a way of gaining compliance and obedience. We shame you for your D, we shame you for your missed shot on goal, we shame you for what you wore to the dance”- Seth Godin

Failure is such a heavy word. No one likes to fail. But it is shame that puts an unhealthy fear of failure in us. Sadly, and I know how cliché this may sound, Failure is essential for mastery of anything in life. We overcome obstacles, not because we don’t fail, but because we find a way around it to reach our destination. There’s something called Failing Forward; kinda like when Kanye said “reach for the cloud and if you fall you land on a cloud”.

But maybe we’re part of the problem. We shame people for their choices. We shame them when they don’t choose. We shame them if they fail or lose. And when they win, we shame their spoils.

Let me tell you what shame looks like: I’m in my late 20s. I don’t know how to play any competitive games, I only play Solitaire on my Kindle and will never play any games I can lose. I rarely answered questions all through my years in University for fear of looking stupid.

I only just started trying my hands out at competitions, now I understand that I may not always win. I only just stopped taking things personally.  And I’m only really just learning to fly. I’m breaking rules and redefining the boundaries, because there are really no boundaries.

And if I fail, well, I forgive myself and just start over again.