Sometimes people need to fail.
I know that’s kind of a weird concept these days. We live in a world where everyone gets a trophy and products are marketed to us because we “deserve” them. We live in a world where we have to be sensitive about the feelings of everyone around us, and where we have to be careful about everything we say because our comments might be offensive. American culture is perfectly reflected in our medicine – we’re all loaded up on antibiotics and over-sanitized, and as a result we’re starting to develop some pretty horrible diseases because we aren’t letting our systems build up the proper immunities.
This really isn’t new.
When I was a senior in High School, I was an utter and complete loser. I skipped class every chance I got, I did drugs, I stole from my parents whenever I felt like it, and I had no respect for anything or anyone around me. All I cared about was myself, and I relied on my charm and intellect to carry me through any bad situation I got in to.
I shouldn’t have graduated. I had skipped so many classes that I had to get special permission to even take my final exams, and even at that I had to get a passing grade on those exams in order to pass the class. I didn’t take that seriously, I didn’t study for my finals, and when it came down to it on the last day of classes I found out that I had failed my final in Anatomy and Physiology.
The teacher changed my grade to a “D” so I could graduate. Because I was so sad. Because I was such a “good kid.” Because my heart was in the right place and I just needed someone to be kind to me while I got my head on straight. It was only a matter of time, of course. I was just in a bad place right then and there.
At the time I thought it was one of the kindest things anyone had ever done for me.
In retrospect? I wish she had let me fail.
Maybe if she had, I would have taken college more seriously when I finally got there. Maybe I would have understood that when you make bad choices there are consequences.
Instead, I just kept fucking off. My Mother wasted thousands of dollars sending me off the University of Alabama, where I spent an entire semester doing practically nothing but eating, sleeping, and running up her Chevron credit card on processed sandwiches and cigarettes. I came back home with my tail tucked between my legs and proceeded to sponge off of her for another few years, drifting between dead end jobs and doing absolutely nothing with my life.
I did finally get my act together, and I think that most people would argue that in the end I turned out pretty good. I like me.
But to this day I feel the ramifications of those “little kindnesses” that were extended to me as a teenager. I will finish my Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science at the age of 42. Where would I be if I had finished it at 22, in 1994, at the dawn of the internet era? Where would I be if someone had taught me that I had to actually work to get something in life and that my charm was only good enough to keep me out of serious trouble? I’ll never know, and I realize it’s futile to go over the “what if” scenarios but sometimes I can’t help myself.
I’m worried that we’re creating a world where the majority of people aren’t living up to their potential because they aren’t being forced to. Because they are having their hands held while they make countless selfish, stupid, destructive decisions. Because they never have to feel any real consequences for their actions.
Because they aren’t allowed to fail.
Nothing makes me feel older than worrying about the “next generation,” but I can’t pin this on them. We’re all culpable, we’re all responsible, we’re all actively taking part in this massive degradation of our collective backbones, and as a result?
We’re all fucked.