The idea of intelligence and stupidity is an interesting one in itself. What does it mean to be smart? Something I so desperately craved as a kid. When I was in school, being smart was being good at maths, writing essays, understanding complex ideas in science and being able to recall information in history. It has only been through my studies to become a teacher that I’ve realised just how simplistic a vision this is. I will certainly concede that I was not smart in these traditional ways, but I now know that there are many forms of intelligence. I may not have been able to understand maths, but I was creative. I couldn’t pass my Japanese exams, but I could perform in a play. I was hopeless at remembering the difference between semi-quavers and crotchets, but I could sing in tune. So I realised that this narrow version of intelligence was part of the problem, not my abilities.
Since those days, I’ve also discovered that there were a number of barriers to my education. Dyslexia and Auditory Processing difficulties, while not discovered at the time, go some distance in explaining what I saw as deficiencies. While putting a name to these mysteries has been greatly beneficial in retrospect, I realise that labelling isn’t really the answer, it’s understanding that being different is normal and great. It’s fantastic to be different, in fact and I do have some special talents as a result of my weird conditions, like being able to read as well with the page turned upside down, as I can right way up! But the experience of feeling stupid, dumb, incapable and hopeless has taught me to grit my teeth and prove them all wrong.
The one moment that highlights this for me more than any other is from primary school. One day in grade 6 I noticed another girl reading ‘Tomorrow When the War Began’, by John Marsden. It was brand new then, the first book just released. I picked it up and asked the girl what it was about. She was one of the smart kids at the school. I don’t think her response was intended to be mean, she was simply stating that facts as we both knew them when she said “Oh you wouldn’t be able to read this, Fiona, it’s an adult book, it’s much too hard for you.” And it was true, I was a terrible reader or probably more to the point I was a slow reader. I was the kid who sat in silent reading and would turn the page over when I had only half finished it for fear someone would notice how little I had read. That moment is etched in my mind because I saw it as a challenge. Later that week I asked my dad to buy me the very same book, it took me six months to read, but I did read it, every single word, and to this day I am a reader. Now I still recommend ‘Tomorrow When the War Began’ to my students as a great book to start them reading.
Reading, in a sense, was a failure, but it was a failure I turned into an achievement. Not because something magic happened, because I refused to let someone else dictate my story. I’ve tried to keep this in mind in moments of failure I’ve encountered at other times. I believe this and other failures is what really allows me to achieve extraordinary feats. I recently embarked on post graduate research studies. There were many times, during the process of writing a 10,000 word thesis that I thought I would fail. But I looked back on my past failures, or near failures and realised the only thing I could do, was try my best and, whatever the result, I could be satisfied. I also had something to prove, that I could achieve this, that I could do something that not everyone can do, I could write, and write well. This is what I mean when I say it is failure that drives me. If I had not known failure, if I did not fear failure, I would probably let laziness rule me. If I didn’t have something to prove, or in my case, my stupidity to disprove I would never have finished writing it.
So here is my thought for the week. Embrace failure and know that it is an opportunity for two things, one, your perceived inadequacies, may turn out to be gifts in disguise. Two, if you do fail, you will learn something and you will have some motivation to prove them all wrong next time. You have to fail sometimes, but if you do, you might as well fail well. By that I mean, use it to learn and not to berate yourself, use it to develop your skills of picking yourself up and trying again, because one day you will find your failures are actually your greatest achievements.