My First Academic Failure

I always sucked at sports. I can’t catch a ball. I can’t throw and hit what I’m aiming at. I can hit line drives in softball, but every single one of them was caught in my softball class in college. I got a C. I know I got a C because the asshole who taught it called me out in the street to announce it to everyone who could hear. Since the P.E. grades were mixed in with academic grades, I missed Phi Beta Kappa by .07 points.

Primary school and intermediate school were the two places where I shined. I could complete an assignment before everyone else. I could assimilate new information and techniques and procedures quickly. It was easy. I was known for it. It was a point of pride, and it kept me out of the line of fire of the bullies. I helped countless individuals cheat on tests and homework. It was how I navigated the frequently cruel and heartless confines of our education system.

It worked out great. I had a lynchpin to hold my self-respect in place. I was a useful cog in a machine that didn’t care about people like me except in terms of what I could do for them.

This lasted until I  took woodshop. I was thirteen. All I had to do was saw wood and hammer the pieces of the wall-mounted bookshelf together.

The assignment was to make a three-dimensional drawing of the bookshelf we were supposed to be making. I had no idea how to do that because I couldn’t draw. I did my best — as well as the cold sweat and a mild panic attack would allow me.

I got a D. It had never happened before. I never got a D in my life. I’d hardly ever gotten a C in anything. It’d finally hit the wall. There were limits to what I could do. I was a second-class citizen again. I was like the rest of them, but I wasn’t with them anymore.

Then, of course, there were the consequences at home. That ax never fell, though. Neither of my parents said a word about it. How could they? Everyone has limitations and this one, they surmised, was mine.

I finally had the courage to fail at something. To this day, it has the thing that has liberated me the most. As the great Clint Eastwood once said, a man’s got to know his limitations.

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