My CV of Failures

Be kind to yourself.
Reflect.
Try again.

In my childhood soccer team, our coach told us that it would take roughly 10 shots on goal to successfully score – so just keep trying. In my teens, while watching a reality TV show about modelling, I learned that the single image that ends up in the magazine is the result of about 300 photos (not to mention all the hair and make up and design team behind the scenes).

Unlike the well established Professor who penned this CV, my career is just starting. Still, my CV of Failures would show the very average GPA of my undergrad degree, the unsuccessful application to ABC3 to be a kid’s science TV show presenter (shelved that dream for years), the 5 months of unanswered job applications after graduating with First Class Honours (really got me down!), the failed first attempt at applying for an APA scholarship, the unsuccessful application for a non-governmental scholarship, the first PhD project I left for a whole host of reasons, the three month interuption to my studies I then took to wander aimlessly through life questioning every decision I’d made as an adult, the Genetic Counselling masters program I didn’t get into, the Grad Dip Ed I flirted with, the many drafts and articles I’ve had torn apart by editors, reviewers, and supervisors now that I’m back on the PhD track.

My point is, “success”* so often results from “failure”, trying out lots of possible options, and making incremental improvements with each repeated effort. Why do we call it failure, when it is such a normal and often necessary part of life? I would not be the person I am today without those experiences.

There is no such thing as perfect, only persistence and perseverance. #growthmindset #resilience #patience #justkeepswimming

*the definition of success is different for everyone, but that’s a whole other post for another time. I have bombed in creative pursuits, auditions, athletic meets, baking mishaps and craft fails, too… I’ve failed as a friend, aunt, sister, partner, and daughter – they just don’t usually get a section on a CV so I didn’t mention them earlier… Still, I’ve learned every time. That’s all I can ask of myself.

Hugging strangers at the airport

Yep. I think I’ve finally lost my marbles… gone bonkers… round the bend… completely lost my inhibitions…

I hugged a complete stranger in the ladies’ bathroom of the Cairns airport.

I should probably give you some back story here. I don’t think I’ve actually gone mad, but considering the onlookers’ general approach was “desperately-trying-to-pretend-I-don’t-see-that-woman-crying-her-eyes-out-at-the-basin” as they hurriedly washed their hands, touched up their lippy, smoothed their hair and got the heck outta there, I was certainly in the minority by stopping to ask if she was ok.

All I did was imagine myself in her place. Crying. Hyperventilating. Inconsolable. All I would want is for someone, ANYONE, to ask if they could do anything to help. Maybe even sit and chat for a while. I would just not want to feel so alone.

So after I had washed my hands, and smoothed my hair… and contemplated the “seeming like a nosey creepy psycho:beneficial human interaction” risk ratio, I asked her, “Are you ok?”

It seemed too weak a way to start the conversation – I mean, she was obviously not ok – but how else does one begin?

Initially, she politely denied anything was wrong with the usual “Oh no, it’s ok… thanks” and seemed embarrassed as she suddenly become aware of all the other people in the bathroom who were trying not to be aware of her. She tried to get her breathing under some semblance of control and wiped her face. But I didn’t just turn and leave. How could I? Something serious had just happened in this person’s life and none of her usual support network were there to, well, support her through whatever this was.

I inclined my head and continued, “Are you sure? Is there anything I can do? You don’t have to tell me what’s wrong but if I can help in any way, I’d like to.”

At this, she burst into a fresh wave of tears and said, “Thank you. Thank you so much, but there’s really nothing anyone can do.”

She stood there, a metre away from me, arms limp and defeated by her side, and sobbed. Openly, heart-wrenchingly sobbed.

I’m not sure where all my caution went, but it was gone. There was nothing else for it; a person in need of a hug, is a person in need of a hug. Of course, being complete strangers, I didn’t force it upon her (I’m preeeeeetty sure that’s an offence) but the least I could do was offer. And she could decline it if she wished.

“I don’t know what else I can do, but (pause) would you like a hug?”

The look on her face completely changed.

Relief.

Comfort.

A glimmer of hope and happiness at being welcomed into someone else’s space.

Her arms sprang up and reached out towards me as she quietly yet emphatically replied, “Yes!”

We embraced. I patted her back and stroked her hair, but said nothing. This didn’t need words. She cried into the corner of my neck and shoulder and clutched at my back like it was a lifebuoy. What felt like minutes later, she slowly released her grip, took a step backwards, wiped her face and whispered, “Thank you. I really needed that.”

I told her that she was most welcome, and that I hoped whatever was causing her so much pain and sadness would soon resolve. Without being conscious of it, I almost bowed to her with my palms together as a gesture of peace and farewell.

We entered that ladies’ room as strangers, and left as strangers, but somewhere in between, she allowed me to be her rock to cling to in whatever storm she was caught in that day. I offered myself up as whatever she needed, while others left her to her own devices. A year ago, I probably would have been one of the onlookers. I’m not sure exactly what has changed me – a lot has happened this year – but the part of me that would have held back, just didn’t. I suppose I realised I had nothing to lose by offering, and that gave me the confidence to approach her. The worst she could have done was decline me and berate me for suggesting that I could even begin to help with what she was going through – and even that, I know, was an unlikely outcome and not exactly a huge ordeal for me to live through considering I would likely never see this person again.

So why tell you all this?

I want to share my experience of choosing to offer to make someone else’s hard time a little easier, rather than making my life easier by ignoring it; to pass on a piece of that confidence I found somewhere inside me to take the risk of being harshly rejected for the potential benefit of someone else’s mental health. Perhaps if you find yourself being the onlooker, instead contemplate taking the opportunity to offer help. It didn’t cost me cent to have that conversation with her, but it made a difference to how she coped with her situation that day. To have someone offer their attention, time, non-judgemental support, and even a simple but heartfelt hug, restores a little of your faith in humanity.

In other news, I finally took the chance to say something encouraging to a complete stranger! (see previous post)

You never know what hidden battles anyone else is fighting so spread peace, love and kindness always – but especially this festive season.

Peace be with you!*

*Full disclosure: Although this is typically a Catholic phrase, I am not Catholic. I am an atheist who really likes the sentiment captured in that phrase. All you really need to know about that is: I live my life by a code of values, ethics, and morals which generally boils downs to the same basic principles at the core of most religions. The only big differences are that: I acknowledge myself as the decider of my decisions and thus the bearer of the consequences, good and bad; and I trust that science holds the answers to how we came to be here, but we, as individuals, decide what we do while we are here.

But that’s a WHOLE OTHER POST that I may never actually write.

I feel it is important to note that atheism does not preclude me from caring about other people. It does not preclude me from being compassionate and hoping that all people can live with a sense of peace and contentment – actually, that is exactly what I strive for and is what I saw lacking in the woman’s life that day. I merely hoped to contribute, in some small way, to rebuilding her sense of inner peace – not because I think it will put me in good favour with an omnipotent being, but simply because if I were in her place I would hope that someone would do the same for me.

Why didn’t I just say it?

I caught the bus this morning. Not earth-shattering news, I know, but it’s just giving you some context. It is the start to my day like most other days from Monday to Friday; taking the bus through the city to work on my PhD at the lab.

This morning, though, was different.

I swiped my gocard, scrambled on board with all my bags and once I had finally managed to contain them all in the baggage area, I took my seat opposite a young woman. She was dressed in gym gear with a sleeping infant snug in his harness across her chest and a pigtailed blonde toddler in a stroller jam-packed to bursting point with baby paraphernalia.

I know, I know – still nothing too amazing to report, right?

As I sat there, scrolling through my newsfeed – still waking up – I heard the woman address her toddler, “Oh look, that’s the stadium.”

“Oh the stay-dee-yum; where we went on holidays?” replied the not-more-than-three-year-old.

“No, (smiles) no it wasn’t a holiday, but that is where you went to watch the football with Daddy.”

I was flabbergasted.

Not only was she speaking with her child without dumbing down any terms, but her daughter was able to recall and articulate visiting the place before and that it was a happy time – like a holiday.

The rest of the journey ensued with the same conversational tone between mother and child. “We’re coming up to the busway now. It runs along near the train line – you might even be able to see a train. When we go over the river on the bridge, you might see a ferry, too. You could see buses, trains, and ferries all in one trip!”

Without missing a beat: “There’s a train. I can see one through there.” the observant little bundle of joy excitedly pointed out.

In addition to the absence of screaming or whining – i.e. boredom, seeking of attention – (because she already had her mother’s attention and involvement), the daughter was also actively engaged in observing and talking about the world around her. Her mother was including her child in her world and equipping her with the words to describe what she was seeing and experiencing.

My favourite part of the trip? When the daughter asked “Why is the tunnel ending?” and the mother gave a reasoned explanation about how we had passed under the city buildings without having to be on the roads with all the other cars so it was much faster, but we were through the city now, so the tunnel was ending. To which she added, “Do you remember the city? Daddy works in a building in the city, and Mummy’s office is in the city too. On days when we are both at work, you go to junior kindy and have fun with all your friends.”

I spent my whole journey sitting across from this woman, beaming inwardly, silently shouting “You are the kind of parent I want to be! Someday I want to be just like you!”

I thought I could tell her this as I was collecting my things from the baggage area which was right beside her. Not because she looked like she needed a pep talk, not because my opinion would mean anything to her, and not because I felt I had a right to pass judgement on her parenting style – none of those things are true. It was simply because I was so moved by the way she interacted with the independent little being she was raising. Then I thought it might embarrass her to be singled out like that, and besides, I’m just some random who’s been grinning like an idiot for the past fifteen minutes trying not to make eye contact with her or her precocious and endearing toddler.

So in an attempt to be less confrontational – because even giving a compliment is confrontation, I suppose – I thought I could go to my bag prior to my stop, on the pretence of getting ready to step off the bus, but quickly pull out my notebook and scrawl down my thoughts and hand them to her on a page, so she could read them silently but still know that I appreciated the example she was setting for her children, and the way that she continued to be a whole person into parenthood (as I aspire to do), and the way that she spoke to her children as though they were completely able to comprehend reason and full-length, proper names of things (because they are adaptive little sponges, soaking up all the information they can!).

But alas, I did none of those things.

I chickened out of sharing with her what an impact she had had on me. I failed to pay a compliment to someone I had never met, and am likely to never see again, because of what? Fear of messy bus-handwriting? Fear of her feeling awkward about being singled out and talking to a complete stranger? Fear of me tripping over my words, or the possibility that she may think it inappropriate that I gush over her ability in an arena in which I have zero first-hand experience?

Bottom line: I don’t know why, exactly. Maybe all of those reasons, maybe none of them at all, but the fact remains that I didn’t say it. And I regret it. Immensely. So much so, that I feel the need to write about it here. In an effort to make up for not saying it to her, I am instead saying it to the whole of the Internet.

The next time the universe throws me the opportunity, I will endeavour to share the positive thoughts that I have instead of keeping them to myself.

Throw kindness and positivity around like confetti! Right? … unless it’s none of my business, even if I’m saying something nice?

What would you have done?