Sunday, December 27, 2015

The F Word

There is a woman from New York in my head.

Well that’s not very interesting,” she kvetches every time I try to write something.

I hold down the delete key.

Better starting writing, or we’ll be here all day,” she chides and stamps her imaginary foot in time with the blinking cursor.

GET OUT OF MY HEAD,” I yell to no one.

Even the most accomplished authors, E.B.White- who wrote Charlotte’s Web, Steven King-- the notable horror story writer and inspiration for the movie Carrie, have written extensively about the voice of their inner critic and how they deal with those pesky and rather annoying voices. My favorite method for banishing one’s inner critic comes from Bay Area author Anne Lamott who recommends shrinking down your critic until they are small enough to fit in a mason jar. Then put them in the jar and close the lid tight so you can’t hear what they are saying. Then throw the jar off the roof.

Okay, okay—maybe I added that last part. Not that you would ever think of something like that.

As we head into a New Year with all of the promise of fresh starts, second chances and a clean slate, we are encouraged to leave our failures behind us. Throw everything that hasn’t gone your way out with the Christmas trash, leave it curbside for someone else. 2016 is nothing but blue skies and clear sailing. Believe me I want that. I really do. But my nasal East Coast inner critic reminds me how important it is to bring the struggles and failures you have had with you.  

I have had lots of failures—most the commonest of shortcomings and some fairly spectacular ones too. I failed O-Chem during my sophomore year of college. And I’m not talking D here people, nope, the big F stamped right there on my transcript for the rest of my life. Ironically the same grade a drunk frat guy unaware that he was even enrolled in the class would get. I did everything I could not to fail. I went to every lecture, met with tutors and the unsympathetic and wholly unhelpful professor. I took the final, knowing I would fail the class.

In retrospect, I learned way more from failing than I would have from squeaking through with a C-. Did you know that its possible to get a 14/100 on a final? Yup, It is. I learned that. I also discovered that even though I got an F in a class, I still had a nice warm dorm room to come home to. I still had food to eat and a loving family. My other classes had gone well, so that my overall GPA that quarter wasn’t actually all that terrible. The world kept turning, the sun came up, I was still a student (albeit not one that passed O-Chem, but nevermind). And that was it. My first real meeting with failure as a newly minted 19 year old. Now I’m told anyone over 18 is technically an adult—although being 29 I have to say I’m still waiting to become one.

I have had other failures since O-chem. Failed relationships—some I caused the end, others I chose to. I quit a summer job my senior year of college as a lifeguard—in a spectacular blow out one only dreams of doing. I let my boss have it real good. I knew I was burning a bridge—or rather soaking it in lighter fluid and throwing the match behind me. It felt good at the time, but ultimately the shortcomings in that position were partially mine.

The first time I applied to med school I sent applications to 28 schools. I got no interviews and received rejection letters from every single one. Apart from being an expensive adventure- it was an exercise in emotional stamina. One can really only read so many rejection letters before it starts to get to you. At least send my $70 back to cushion the blow.

During medical school there have been more times than I care to recount that I have walked home from school convinced I failed something, bombed a quiz or totally blew it by giving a wrong answer or having an awkward interaction. Maybe you’ve walked there too? While most of the time my worries are completely made up in my head as opposed to real problems, I greet failure each time. I know its presence and as much as it sucks, I welcome it, for it has been the failures in my life that have fueled my grit, my success and my ability to function with every test, every situation where failure might be possible.

As we hurtle towards 2016, I know the desire to have the fresh, clean sheets of the New Year. A clean slate. We’ll do things right this time. No more waking up with a bottle of red and a half eaten chocolate cake on your night stand…repeat after me…celery, lots of celery.

Let’s remember how important it is to take your failures and your inner critic with you into the New Year and all of the years to come. May they inform your life and help you deal with unforeseen circumstances.

I wish you nothing but success in 2016, but when you feel failure looming over your shoulder or become deafened by your inner critics, don't run from them or put them in a jar-- rather turn towards them and say, “hello old friend, its good to see you.”


  1. I don't believe you'll eat celery.... wine is always a necessary part of life

  2. Don't worry, I never take my own advice. ;)

  3. "One of the things I learned the hard way was that it doesn't pay to get discouraged. Keeping busy and making optimism a way of life can restore your faith in yourself." -Lucille Ball

  4. So proud of you my dear friend. Sending you much love and warm hugs.