Sometimes I think we take ourselves too seriously. Upon experiencing defeat, public ridicule, or embarrassment, we tend to turn a bright, rosy red, experience a biting sense of loss and self-directed loathing, and struggle to overcome the injuries our large egos have sustained. I know because I definitely was one of these individuals.
Upon experiencing any sort of failure or public embarrassment, I would proceed to contemplate the incident for hours on end, agonizing over my monumental stupidity or the injustice of my circumstances. My temples would grow hot. Tears would burst forth from my eyes. I would scream at the heavens for deliverance that surely wouldn’t come from my petty problems. But at this point, I would like to say that I’ve grown from my previous juvenile rage and shame and cultivated a healthier mindset when it comes to failure.
Alas, I now feel as if I must give you some context for my sudden discussion of failure and coping. Well-allow me to start from the beginning.
I was born on August 23 in a little hospital in-just kidding. I wasn’t planning on going that far back. And now allow me to outline the real circumstances of the day my public humiliation occurred.
It was in my colloquiam class for a scholars program that my university offers. After our professor finished his lesson, our teacher assistants promptly stepped forward.
“Now we can hold elections for different members of our executive board for this Scholars program. Those of you who want to run for positions have to come up and give a one minute speech.”
The other bearded TA finished, “And now, who wants to be president?”
Shocked at the sudden call for power, I remained firmly rooted to my seat. There was no way that I would try out for that. And after several, silly college students sauntered before the class and gave their self-important speeches, I voted for the candidate who I believed was best fit for the position. As for the actual voting process, the TAs would ask the potential candidates to briefly leave the room as the counted the votes of the students.
I groaned inwardly at the tedious process. “When would this ever be over?” I despairingly glanced at my wristwatch, and cringed to see that it was 7:45 PM. I just want this to be over so that I may drink hot chocolate in peace!
Once the student body had selected its president, our TAs continued, “Well, congrats Joey Bob! Now we can vote for secretary.”
Now unlike the position of president, which entailed numerous responsibilities of governing meetings, seeking out new opportunities, etc, secretary seemed to be far more manageable.
When one student asked what responsibilities were involved he replied, “You take notes at our meetings.”
Taking notes? Was that all there was to it? And though I had never before run for a public office, I began seriously considering my options.
Well, Anusha. It would look great on your resume- secretary for the executive board. It wouldn’t take up too much time. And you take notes every day! Do it! Do it! Stand up and express your interest!
The powerfully optimistic voice urged me to get to my feet. To let myself be known. To seize a potential opportunity. But not to be outdone, another bleaker, condescending voice called, “And what if you don’t win? You’ll look like an idiot! Sit down, you fool.”
Torn between the possibilities of possible victory and certain defeat, I slowly stood and made my way to the front of the class, where the two other candidates stood. As I passed the numerous unfamiliar faces of the voting body, Ii was immediately seized with a sense of disbelief.
Was I really doing this? I hadn’t even prepared! In fact, I had no intentions of running for this particular position until only a few minutes ago. Could I go back? No, that would be worse than never standing up at all.
My legs moved mechanically towards the front, seemingly unaware of the great emotional conflict that was bubbling inside of me. When I was finally there, our TAs signaled for us to start.
Too uncertain to take the lead, I allowed my competitors to start their speeches. Their speeches consisted of previous leadership positions they had held in high school, a passion for note taking, and promises that they were hardworking, meticulous, and efficient.
By the time it was my turn to speak, it was as if they had taken the words right out of my mouth.
Once the crowd had settled down once more, I meekly opened my mouth to repeat those same tired old words.
“My name is Anusha Kambala,” my voice sounded oddly frantic as if the panic was seeping into my words.
“Just like the others, I too have extensive experience in note-taking.” I paused for a few more seconds, thinking of what else to say. I looked at all of the ninety-other faces in my scholars program and felt my knees slightly wobble.
If I were secretary, I would not only make sure that we’d have the best notes, but I’d also seek to make sure that our program had cool programs like movie nights and field trips.”
At a loss of what else to say, I quickly finished, “Thank you for your time.”
Seeing that I had concluded my meager claim to power, my TAs stepped up once more before saying, “Alright, so now our candidates can briefly step outside while you guys vote.”
The results hadn’t even been announced and already I felt the burning surge of shame and defeat rise to my cheeks. It wasn’t long until we were standing just a few steps outside the building.
Standing in the light of the waning day for a few moments, I realized how much I liked being outside. The slight chill in the autumn air quickly woke me from the fatigue of classes. The fading sunlight was filtering in through the golden leaves of the trees. It would have been even more beautiful if I wasn’t waiting for the results of a doomed election. I looked at my fellow candidates who had also taken a stab in the dark and exchanged a few blithe words to dispel the tension.
“Well that was interesting.”
A few of them chuckled and nodded their assent. And just like that, one of our bearded TAs peered outside from the door and ushered us in.
Oh my gosh, the votes have been cast. I began to think frantically. Democracy has been executed! I even have a fighting chance of holding a position of power! Who knows! I might even win!
My hopes of success continued to soar as my TA made to announce the results of the election.
“And our new secretary for the International Studies Scholars Program is…” Anusha Kambala. Anusha Kambala. Anusha Kambala. I held my breath in an infuriating mixture of burning anxiety and hope.
“Dolorous Huxby” (note: I have changed the names for the sake of privacy or whatnot). Dolorous’s face brightened as she beamed at the class that had so unanimously wanted her to become the organization’s secretary.
The balloon of hope of potential pride, and glory, and success and power that had just begun swelling in my chest burst with a deafening roar, leaving me deflated and shattered.
I spent the duration of the class woefully distracted from the lecture material itself, choosing to nurse my wounded ego rather.
My internal dialogue, as it always is, was infuriating.
My god, you must have sounded so stupid! an angry voice screeched in my temples.
But it’s good I tried, right? I mean that took some measure of courage, yeah? a weak and optimistic voice inquired.
At what cost, you fool?! Now everyone will see you for the weak, indecisive, and unqualified bumpkin that you are!
And so it went, on and on- one voice brutally tearing me down and the other seeking to build me up in some way.
In retrospect, I was the only one painfully mulling over my bitter defeat. I think it’s safe to say that no one else in my class was sadistically chuckling to themselves, thinking, “Wow Anusha looked terrible up there. Loser.”
Or even if someone were thinking that, I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t be the best of friends. Ultimately what matters in the wake of crushing personal defeat is your own perception of it. While the freshly deferred dream seethes with a continued longing for success and aches with a terrible sense of loss, one that has withered away with age is far more benign in nature. Yes, you’re still disappointed that you didn’t succeed, but you understand what you did wrong. You’re proud of yourself for pushing yourself past your insecurities and putting yourself in a risky position. You’re optimistic for the prospects of future success. All in all, who knew that the bitter taste of defeat could be kind of sweet?