I’m trying to overcome a fear, a fear of failure.
It is a fear that I’ve quite literally allowed to sabotage any sense of making an effort to excel and I’ve realised that now is the time to deal with it so I can succeed.
This academic year I have committed to study to qualify to become a gemmologist. Gemstones, geology and jewellery have been things that have fascinated me since a child – my magpie self has always been drawn to shiny things from being a small child in every shop of every museum I’d ever been to. It’s an interest I’ve come back to again and again.
I’m serious about this course of study – it has a future attached to it – so naturally I want to do well. I look at the award ceremonies of the Gemmological Association of Great Britain – Gem-A – and see smiling graduate students holding certificates with distinction grades and prizes and I hope one day that could be me.
Now the course has started and I’m finding that the work is much harder than I expected. A distance learning course might be imagined to be somewhat wishy-washy and vague – but this course of study (as my tutor and the materials remind me frequently) needs to be maintained to deadline for the best chance of success.
Now gemmology (people keep looking at me and asking “crystals?” Like it has the wiff of incense about it and therefore presumably not a thing in their view) is very much a science discipline. It draws together strands of chemistry, physics and geology. There are instruments that need mastering and concepts behind how those instruments work that need understanding. This is hard work and, I’ll be very honest, it has left me terrified.
Growing up, I was surrounded by a myth of effortless capability, an intelligence so great that applied study was redundant. My mother, a complex and wickedly intelligent woman, had been a prodigious student as a child, picking up education, toying with it in a louche fashion then going on to gain success. Choosing to do what interested her and succeeding at it with the minimum of effort. She was a very young mother so I was there, growing up and observing throughout her picking up her studies again going to university and then law school.
Even in the face of seeing her studying at home and at the library for hours, somehow I had embedded into my consciousness the idea of not needing to work to be a prodigy meant that there was no point me working. If I couldn’t just do it naturally – what was the point?
At school I wasn’t a committed student – school reports would lament that I had the capacity if only I would put in the effort – but there was always something more interesting to do, something more interesting to daydream about. Studying was something I found very hard to do. The information wasn’t going in so, why bother. I didn’t give it effort and prizes seemed so remote for me I didn’t even give them a thought.
I started a Chemistry degree on leaving school but, my interest was so, so very limited that I had no desire to study. I failed to show up for anything but the basic levels of lectures and lab sessions and when it came to exams this showed. It felt futile as the information just didn’t seem to settle into my brain. So why bother.
I’ve finished paying for that short term, but expensive, foray into disinterest, but the sense of failure still carried with me.
Nevertheless I found careers in which I could manage without a degree, without an area of study that requires hefty application of theoretical knowledge. Practically based jobs where a minimal theoretical groundwork was needed before experiential learning took over.
I’ve done professional examinations and, yes, a lot of the information I’ve absorbed by exposure to the material and taking it in without any real effort. It’s part of what I am accustomed to doing day to day, so of course I carry a passable ability when it comes to exams in the subject, so I’ve passed but have never distinguished myself in academia.
Since I had my eldest daughter, I tried to study for an Open University degree, but found my inability to apply myself hindered me at every turn. I did it because I felt I should. I felt like something was missing – people assumed I had a degree – so to overcome the embarrassing explanations I tried. I came away with a diploma in higher education (using up some of the credits I managed to collect during my earlier failed time at university the first time – not a complete bust hey!) but decided not to complete to degree level as the marks I’d obtained at level three meant that the degree I would’ve been able to obtain limited to a 2:2, I felt like I would just be a failure that had invested more time in a doomed enterprise.
So, that brings us to now and I am at the beginning of a putative career in gemmology – but I have started and the work is HARD. Up to now my academic transcript, in as much or little as it is, has been guided by so many “shoulds” instead of actual desire, so failure has been easy to take on the chin. Right now, however I am at risk of being exposed. This is my passion and what happens if I fail?
Yes, I have excuses. Plenty. I am a mother of four children, three under three. I can chalk this one up to not having enough time, little space in my life to study, blah, blah, blah.
Now is the time for application, to do this thing.
I’m a term in and have manged every assignment, sometimes by the skin of my teeth, but I’m putting the time in. Snatched moments are having to do, but I am doing it. I’m producing notes, notes of notes, finding extra reading. Doing, for the first time in my life, the extra reading. Picking up extra lectures instead of just skirting through the bare minimum.
I know how privileged I have been to be able to keep failing, but now I’m appreciating that and I’m stopping, now.
I need to succeed. So I’m willing to work hard for it. Finally.