Wisdom Through Failure

June 13, 2009
By lindsay szymanski BRONZE, Simi Valley, California
lindsay szymanski BRONZE, Simi Valley, California
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I know that I have become a product of an egocentric and overzealous generation, a generation that no longer lives in the present, but is consumed with the impression it will make on the world of tomorrow. To this generation, wisdom has been replaced by a letter grade and experience has been trumped by the length of a community service list. The desire to gain fulfillment has been obliterated and in its place stands the lust for frivolous accolades. Because I have for so long sat in the middle of this swirling social mess, I have continuously felt the pressure to exceed every standard and expectation; an internal pressure which has crystallized my life into an ongoing search for perfection, and a deeply rooted fear of failure. This was how I lived for sixteen years, with the belief that I if I were to falter from my idealistic ambition, the world around me would meet catastrophe. However, on Friday, September 12, 2008, thanks to what could only be divine intervention, my philosophy changed.

By this time I had had my license for almost a year and had been hired as a dance teacher, two clear signs to me that I was maturing from a child void of responsibility to an adult equipped with freedom and an impressive résumé. Although, there was much in my life to be proud of, my sense of direction was not one of them. After getting lost while running an errand, I turned my car into a residential area with the intent of turning around and heading back in the other direction. I pulled up to the end of the street with the rhythmic sound of my blinker humming in my ear, prepared to turn left onto the thoroughfare. It was five o’clock and the street was swarmed with a row of cars anxiously waiting to arrive home from work. Time passed and my fingers tensed around the steering wheel as my foot tapped on the car floorboard in irritation. Finally the left side of the street grew silent and my opportunity to turn looked eminent. However when I turned my head to the left I saw a small isolated car heading in my direction. As my amounting impatience grew, I convinced myself that I had time to drive past this car and arrive safely in the opposite lane. My foot forcefully pressed on the accelerator and my car zoomed into the intersection. I remember the frightening sound of the tires screeching across the pavement, attempting to stop the inevitable, as a small black Jetta slammed into the side of my blue Honda Civic. My ears, that only a few seconds ago where irritated with the clicking of my blinker, instantly rang loud in my head awakening fear in my senses as my side airbags exploded and my body was thrust upon the formidable cushion. In the hours following, after I had evaluated the incident, it would seem ironic to me that my first thought was not of the safety of myself or the other driver, but the shame that engrossed me at the collapse of my attempt of perfection. Almost out of instinct, my right hand reached for my phone, positioned in the cup holder next to me, and dialed my parent’s number. An ocean of relief swept over my body as my father answered on the first ring, an occurrence almost unheard of at my house. I frantically explained to him the situation.

By this time I was still distraught with the drastic consequence of my reckless decision and tried frantically and unsuccessfully to open the driver’s seat door, which due to the damage was barricaded shut. It did not even occur to me that there were two other able-functioning doors until a stranger, who had witnessed the accident, forcefully pulled it open, sticking a concerned head into the car and inquiring if I was alright. How I responded to him I am unsure of. Shame and disappointment in my action compelled me to remain in the isolation of the battered car until the screaming sirens of a black and blue motorcycle, preceded by a fire truck emerged from the stalled traffic. The policeman approached me and with shaking hands I gave him my insurance and license while a fireman escorted me across the street onto the safety of the sidewalk.

At this point several people had emerged from their homes to see the commotion, and I felt their hot eyes burning on me, digging the guilt deeper into my skin. It was no secret that I was at fault. I had admitted so to the cop without hesitation and now the reality of my misjudgment weighed heavy on me. I knew what each adult was thinking as they stood in front of their homes observing the accident: just another reckless teenage driver, a stereotype that I had strived to not be associated with. My humiliation stood like a vast wall before me and blinded out everything else, sucking me of the courage to return the kindness to the man I hit, who had inquired if I was ok. Finally, my parents arrived and as they approached me with solicitous faces, the guilt that had been building up within me fulminated as a felt the hot salt of my tears drain down my cheeks. Still, I managed to maintain some amount of composure until after the tow trucks carried away the mutilated cars and the cop and firemen had left to explore other dangerous incidents of the evening. All that remained were my parents and myself and my horrible mistake.
As I sat in the back seat of my father’s car while my parents perched themselves in the front two seats, emotion hit me like a tidal wave hits the vulnerable sand of the beaches. I could feel the disgruntlement of both my parents eating away at me, proving to me that the confidence and emerging maturity I had believed in just minutes before, was a hoax. My naïve attempt at perfection had fooled me, making me believe that I was different than most teenagers, but in reality it only delayed an emerging truth that this distinction was an imaginary creation of my mind.

Thus was my mentality as I entered my home with a face exhausted from emotion and eyes imbued with tears. I went to the couch and sat between the warm comfort of my parents as they turned on the TV in an attempt to divert my attention from the happenings of the day. Ironically on this same day, the monorail system experienced overwhelming tragedy, leaving twenty-five people dead, and hundreds with an emotionally traumatic ordeal. Hundreds of miles away, the abandoned streets of Galveston, permeated in layers of wind and rain, stood fearlessly awaiting its pending moment of obliteration at the hands of a monster named Ike. As these stories were delivered to the nation, a moment of understanding gripped me. I had failed, yes, this was true; and I had lived through an ordeal that I never wished to encounter again. Yet, I was not frantically searching the city of Chatsworth, fearing that my loved one would not emerge from the rubble of the wrecked metro link. Nor was I in Southern Texas questioning if my home, which stands erect today, would still be their in the morning. No, I was safely at home with a new experience and new grasp of wisdom. My ordeal had not been a catastrophe, but a lesson, a lesson that had not been delivered to me through the pages of a textbook, but through the dreaded lining of failure. For the first time in my life, I could look toward the future without the fear of disappointment, but an eagerness that convinces me that it is only though shortcoming that I can ever meet success.

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