Please welcome today’s guest writer, Hope Velthouse (‘12). Hope lives in Zeeland, Michigan where she spends her time trying out new recipes, playing board games, and introducing people to her pet hedgehog, Mr. President. She loves traveling and can fully recommend you visit Israel, Peru, Thailand and Austria.
“Next meeting, we’ll do your three-month reassessment,” my boss said.
“Mm, okay,” I replied, a tinge of familiar dread coming up my spine. Later, I emailed them and asked for a copy of the assessment to be sent to me beforehand. The one time they had done that, I remembered, had not involved any crying on my part, making it basically the Christmas of assessments. There, I thought, I’m doing my part. I’m asking for what I need.
There was no attachment to the email they sent it in reply. Two paragraphs, not the format I had grown used to with a list of the company’s values and how I had measured up. Very little criticism at all, when compared to what I was used to: a strangely bloodless list of flaws, and a score that meant I was labeled mediocre at best. Instead, it offered just the unexpected clarity of It has become clear that your work is not a good fit. We’ll meet at 4 to go over winding down your employment here.
3:59 and I was walking down the hall. I took a breath—counted four – held my breath—counted seven—exhaled as slowly as I could—counted eight. I pictured a triangle expanding into a square, a pentagon, a hexagon, a heptagon, an octagon as I inhaled; then collapsing into itself as I let the breath out again.
I won’t say any more than I have to. I won’t cry. And I didn’t, not then.
Eight months prior to this moment, I had written a poem about it, a rare moment of forward-thinking. I made a not-quite promise to myself about how I would react:
next time i fail,
maybe i’ll try celebrating it instead
and see how that goes down…
…maybe i’ll start with reminding myself
that it serves as a sign
i was brave enough to try something
i was not guaranteed to get right.
I knew all along I would not be able to celebrate my next failure. When I drew to the close of the poem, I pictured a failure somehow splendid, like a would-be senator who gets the smallest percentage of votes, a 5ker who trains hard but doesn’t improve their time, a first draft that needs a heck of a lot of editing. With that failure in mind, I thought at least I could manage to not be ashamed. I forgot that you can sometimes not try very hard and still fail.
Do I deserve to feel brave when I stayed at a job I knew wasn’t right for me, as I folded in on myself from an octagon to a heptagon, a hexagon, a pentagon? When I was only halted there by the decision of one who was acting in their own interest? The lesson I wrote for myself does not apply, though maybe one day I’ll live the fable to which the moral belongs.
Here’s another moment of forward-thinking: I’ll grow, and eventually I’ll have learned something-or-other. In the meantime, I’ll say it out loud, despite the sting: I failed.