Tuesday, July 03, 2012

On Failure

It wasn't until after college that I began to fail. Before that, I coasted. Best in English, editor-in-chief of my high school newspaper, Journalist of the Year, it all came easily and without much effort.

I graduated in the top ten of my class and hurdled the Intarmed qualifying exam, all without really trying. Sure, I studied and did my best on exams, but I didn't really work. College was a dizzying whirl, but I managed to balance all of it. I didn't excel in academics or at the campus newspaper where I wrote, but I wasn't too bad either. You could say that I was complacent, content just to get by.

All this would later have a detrimental effect.
If life after college is supposed to be the real world, then to me, it also came as a sudden shock. Again, without much effort, I landed a prestigious job. A vice-president who had interviewed me for an award came into the room where I was taking a written exam. "I know you," she said. "You interviewed me for the President's Medal," I replied. And just like that, I was sent downstairs after I finished the exam for an on-screen test. No one else from the examination room was granted the same privilege.

Even after the corporate cesspit that was let's not name that media organization, shall we?, I easily landed another job, this time at another respected media outlet. It was serendipity -- I sent my resumé in at my mentor's urging, and they happened to be looking for someone. Just like that I was in.

Just to make things clear, I've failed at being a journalist. I didn't have the persistence to pound the pavement day after day in search of a story or to cozy up to sources, no matter how they offended me. I was unwilling to work 16-hour shifts and sacrifice my weekly days off. I just didn't have a nose for news.

It was also during this time that I realized that journalism was only ever supposed to be a stepping stone to writing. Sometime during high school, my sensible mind had decided that I wasn't ever going to support myself by writing, so I should have a fallback plan. Journalism was as close as I could get. Yes, I was able to talk to everyone, from Presidents to hardened criminals (a few were were both), and yes, I won an award for a story I wrote, but I still failed at journalism. My contract wasn't renewed at my first job and I was asked to resign from my second.

After eight months of reading romance novels, I found another job via Facebook. Again, it was easy. All I said was, I need a job where I can think. Someone said, why not try this? And that was that. They told me during the interview that I was too qualified, but I didn't mind. I wanted to do something beyond merely news writing.

Working for an NGO has been fulfilling, but also frustrating. The fulfilling part is seeing people who are now able to eat three times a day because of what you do, and writing about things like a community-built irrigation system. The frustrating part is the low salary and the fact that I still wasn't writing fiction.

All that changed two years ago, when I finally decided to get an MFA. I started writing short stories late October 2010. In December of that same year, I started studying for the GRE. I took the GRE in April 2011. Come September, I started filling out applications for my dream schools.

And then, the results started coming in this April and I failed. I was waitlisted to two US schools, but both waitlists closed. I've been accepted to two UK schools, but there's no funding. It would take me 20 years to pay off a loan to fund my tuition, so that's not an option.

I've failed. But you know what? It's not the end of the world. I won't be going off to grad school this year, but I am adamant that I will succeed next year. I am deferring my entry into grad school for a year to look for funding. I'm reapplying to seven US schools.

Also, it's important that I'm finally in a job that I love. It pays peanuts, but I love it anyway. I love going to rural areas and meeting new people. I love that I'm doing what I can to fight oppression. I love that I'm not too tired to write after I finish work.

I've managed to start a daily routine of writing for at least an hour a day. It isn't much, but it makes me feel like a writer. I finished a short story last week that's going to go into my new portfolio for grad school. I think that after a few revisions, I'll finally be ready to submit my fiction to magazines and to enter it in contests.

I also have a lot of things to look forward to this year, including trips to Nueva Ecija and Palawan, joining the UP Mountaineers, and a dear friend's wedding.

So yes, I'm sad that I've failed, but I'll get over it. What failure has taught me is that talent is never enough. It takes discipline, hard work, and persistence (along with a bit of luck) to achieve your dreams.

I know that this isn't the last time that I will fail at something big. I will probably fail many times in the future. But I also know that every time I falter, I can get up, dust myself off, and begin anew.

What's failure going to teach me next? I'm ready.


Cy said...

It's brave of you to share this with us. I too have experienced failure. Hindi lang nakapag-kuwento dahil sa pride.

Na-depress ako noon, pero ang ikinatutuwa ko e kailanman hindi ako nagpatalo sa self-doubt. Sa tingin ko ganun ka rin, and that makes me feel glad.

What kept me going back then was the support of those dear to me and this quote from the Bible: Trust in God with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.

Things will be better. Panatilihin ang optimism at ang never-say-die attitude na hinahangaan ko sa iyo. :-)


ice said...

Aww, thanks Cy.

Sabi nga ng isang kaibigan ko, "Let go and Let God." Syempre, disppointed ako na hindi ko matutuloy this year.

But I'm also happy to be spending another year here.

Dumaan din ako sa depression! Marami tayong mapag-uusapan bukas.