Failing on Purpose and the Importance of Trusting Yourself

Towards the end of eighth grade, I met with my counselor and went over options for which high school I’d attend.  With my grades, it was assumed I’d go right up the street to the vo-tech based high school.  Mmm, not for me.  Besides, it was in my neighborhood and my neighborhood sucked.  I wanted out of there.    

So, I told her I’d like to go to this other school in the northeast and she said I didn’t have the grades to justify that.  It’s true, I didn’t. I actually liked going to school, but mostly for the social interaction. 

Here’s where it gets stupid.  She did some checking, talked with my parents, who talked with my cousin, who had no business weighing in on the situation whatsoever, but did anyway.  With all that, my parents made a decision and told the counselor.  When we met again, she said I’d been placed in a prestigious high school that was all-boys, designed for those students who continue on to college. 

Wait, what?  I don’t have the grades to get into the school I chose, but somehow, this highly sought-after school of genius students was going to be my path?  That makes no sense!

I had no say-so.  It sucked.  I took a train and two buses, followed by a mile walk in a really bad neighborhood to get there and repeated it backwards every day.  But, that’s not the worst part.  Did I mention it was an all-boys school?  That’s not it either, but it didn’t help.  No, it was the teacher-student experience.  The teachers didn’t actually teach much or at all.  My algebra teacher sat behind a desk and did nothing, but tell us to work our way through the text book.

Oh yeah, I suck at math.  I tried.  I had two tutors and my parents with the small amount of income they had, managed to pay for a third tutor.  I just couldn’t understand it. 

Then … two thirds of the way through the year, I met with my counselor.  I asked her to approve a transfer to another school.  She said it doesn’t work that way and no one transfers out of this school.  She followed that up by letting me know that my grades need to improve. 

Hmm.  I’ve always been very intuitive, so I asked, “what happens if I fail ninth grade? “Would I repeat ninth grade again here next year.”  I think I knew the answer, but I let her say it; “You would have to repeat ninth grade, but it can’t be here.”

That’s what I thought.  Done and done.

I ended up repeating ninth grade at a junior high school, where some great things happened: In my first week of algebra class, my teacher, a retired marine, spent just five minutes after class to show me how it all worked and everything clicked.  Straight A’s.  Great guy.  I also met my first real girlfriend and we went steady for almost three years.  The best part was that I went on to an even better high school than I was originally asking for and it was a life-changing and fulfilling experience.  I simply couldn’t ask for more from life.  I actually graduated, went into the Navy, then put myself through college.  The rest is history, as they say.

Sometimes, we need to take a step back, as time-consuming or difficult as it is, to move in the direction that was meant for us.  If we’re in tune with our true selves, we intuitively know the direction.  We may not see the destination, but we feel good about the path. Trust that.  Some people won’t understand. 

Oh, my parents were pissed that I failed ninth grade!  And I get it, it’s a parent thing.  However, no one else walks in our shoes.  We have to do what feels right for ourselves, but a little finesse and care for others goes a long way.

I hear Twisted Sister playing in the background: “It’s up to you, what you do will decide your own fate.  Make your choice now, for tomorrow may be far too late.” 

It’s never too late, by the way.

Photo: Frankford High School, Philadelphia

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