I fell down.
And then I fell down again.
I was teaching myself how to skate backward and could easily fall like a drunk on Bourbon Street for 10 minutes without regaining my footing. But I was that determined to learn how to rollerskate backward.
Then one day it hit and I figured it out and ended up being, if I say so myself, a hella roller skater.
Nobody ever taught me how to roller skate. I just wanted it badly enough that I was willing to take the falls.
But somewhere between those carefree disco days of 1975 and the constantly self-introspective nowadays of 2023, it seems that youth have, somehow, lost their permission to fall. A close friend Kevin, that’s my age, and I were discussing this recently and he hypothesized that it happened in the 80s when men were told to sit down and shut up and that no matter how bad he sucked at soccer, by gosh, little Johnny was gonna get a trophy and a pan of brownies for his shoddy efforts. And, Johnny knew he would be rewarded so he quit trying because he was trained to be less than he could be.
I reckon that the ‘why’ of that loss isn’t as important as the results of the loss of permission to fail in life.
Nobody gave me a shiny participation trophy for just showing up and busting my ass on skates. If they had done that I’d probably have been content to only skate forwards for the rest of my life.
Roller skating only forward was safe. Boring, but safe. I wanted more than boring and safe.
I was discussing this observation with a young person recently and they agreed. As a generation, they don’t feel like they can fail. So as a result, many times, they simply don’t attempt. Because if you don’t try then you can’t mess it up, right? You’ll be safe and nobody will post failure pix of you online.
Somewhere in the band room at Lexington High School lies a piece of my pride that peeled off of me during a rehearsal. That piece of pride sloughed off, slid down and off my body, and puddled on the bandroom floor during a part of ‘Stars and Strips Forever’. There was a section where NOBODY was to honk or beat until the director gave the hand sign; complete silence was in order. Which meant all eyes were to be on him to watch for that directive. However, Mark’s eyes were staring at the music and missed the ‘rest’ hand sign that he was in charge of directing.
Do you have any idea of the embarrassment when you honk your baritone loudly during an entire rest for everyone in the band? And it was a bold honk because that’s how the music called it to be played at the point. I can still hear that LOUD and BOLD baritone honk, feel my young redface and still see Mr. Harris’s square-jawed head pivot towards me and the eyes of a death laser piercing my young soul and I just knew that my life was over right there.
I made more mistakes in the band and in life, but I learned to not repeat the same one. In fact, I was first chair the next year.
I failed out of nursing school the first time, audited then made straight A’s when I went back and passed my boards on the first testing. And 34 years later I retired from a successful career in medicine as a Registered Nurse.
In all of these life events, I successfully learned from my failures.
Maybe it was our generation’s ‘helicopter parenting’ that led to the demise of success through failure. Rarely does anyone pop outta the womb with a vaccine for polio and sing flawless opera. It takes years to accomplish things sometimes. And the results that we see are not on the first attempts. The successes are made from endless wads of paper thrown at garbage cans in frustrated efforts to pen just the right thing.
We have to let the younger generations fall again.
Yes, absolutely fall.
They need to bust their young, resilient, and nimble hineys on skating floors until they learn how to skate backward to ‘The Hustle’.
And we absolutely have to stop this 1980s soft culture thing of rewarding failures. If Cecily stops getting ice cream and pretty trophies for her bad soccer performances then maybe Cecily will want to be a better soccer player and she will BUILD her self-confidence the way it’s supposed to naturally happen; when mom and dad, BOTH sit down and shut up. Let coaches do their jobs like they always have. Put our lawn chairs and cellphones up for practices sometimes and maybe seize the opportunity to let the coaches babysit and parents go on a dinner date. Cecily and Johnny will be fine. Probably better cause we weren’t staring at them the whole time.
In other words, mom and dad gotta get a life outside of their children a little better. Ouch. That’s hard, I know. But the results of this pampering and soft parenting are absolutely crippling our children and future generations for their tomorrows when we won’t be around.
Learning how to safely fall, then confidently rise will make a much better future for our children and our world.
And so today, the echoes of that brave, bold, and loud solo baritone honk are still floating out in the universe somewhere. If you hear it come your way one sunny day, tell it that I said ‘thank you’.
Because had it not been for my failures, I would never have known the pride and confidence of accomplishments through the failures in my life.
That’s the best that I can tell about it,
Loved every word of it and totally agree. All I’ve learned in life, I learned the hard way – only stuck my hand in the fire once .