Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Facing up to failure as I flail towards fifty

This week something rather perturbing happened: Yours Truly turned 49. Why so perturbing, you might wonder? After all, it’s just one more year. But this, of course, is not just any year: it’s a landmark, because in just one more short year (and years feel exceedingly short by the time you’ve notched up nearly half a century’s worth of them) I shall be ... cue slightly disquieting music... fifty. I can’t quite make up my mind how I feel about this, but one thing is for sure: I am painfully aware of how many sinister character flaws I had intended (but have so far failed) to “address” before I hit the big 5-0. 
This list of personal aberrations to be conquered in twelve measly months is alarmingly long: get fitter, lose weight, subdue my plethora of paperwork into some semblance of order, be more organised and focused in my copywriting and translating tasks, eat more healthily, make significantly more effort to dress in something other than baggy jeans, a holey (no, I don’t mean holy...) rugby shirt and wellies (or even sandals and socks!), veer away from a distinct tendency towards pessimism and start to ooze positivity instead. Aaarrghhh - where to begin?!
Let’s start with the positivity issue. Half full or half empty – which type of bottle are you? According to my beloved offspring, I am a typically Scottish half-empty Irn Bru bottle.  Personally I prefer to call it realism – finely honed by the intermittent buffeting one inevitably experiences as one navigates one’s way across the choppy waters of life. What’s more, I am pretty confident that in another 30 years, the said sprogs’ life experiences will have sent their cynicism into overdrive and then they’ll finally understand where their grumpy old mum was coming from.  Anyway, as I see it, I’m in a win-win situation, because if I expect things to go wrong and they do, then I have the satisfaction of having been right. And if, contrary to my Calvanistically cautious expectations, things do actually go right, then I can be happy that they did – despite having been wrong... The logic all seems perfectly sound to me ;-).
Two other little idiosyncrasies that I am hoping to tackle in the coming 360 or so days are 1) being a tad too pedantic and 2) being slow to let go of past mistakes. Now whilst being an unashamed pedant has its (not “it’s”...) definite advantages when it comes to being a proofreader, my inability to forget failures is something that I seriously struggle with. Daughter No2, on the other hand, has no such problems and could certainly teach me a thing or three about never brooding over her mistakes. The reason? Well, partly because she hardly ever makes any mistakes (according to her...). But more importantly, on the rare occasion when she does concede that she might just have got something ever so slightly wrong, she simply says “I can’t change that now” and moves on without a backwards glance. Unlike her fond mama, it has to be said...  

Just take the example of my Higher results (rather topical this week, given that this year's Higher results have just been released here in Scotland and are “the best ever”).  I should confess here that out of all the academic exams I've ever sat, I only once dropped to a B grade – and that was in my Higher maths. Now, most sensible people would be very happy to have only one B, but being the self-confessed sad perfectionist that I am, that blinking 'B' still haunts me to this day. Try as I might to forget about it, it is always there, lurking in the back of my mind.

And my mathematical misery is not completely alone in my murky cerebral recesses, because keeping it company are the  failed cycling proficiency test (the result of my far-too-busy farmer father's failure to fix the brakes on my bike before the test and a crushing blow to any 11-year-old!). There is also a skulking lone German word “Nelke”, which had the audacity to pop up in my O’Grade German exam (bear in mind that we’re now talking 34 – thirty-four! – years ago) and which, Ach Du Liebe, I did not know. My agony was made infinitely worse upon emerging from the exam hall, when my arch rival in the German class informed me smugly that he had known it meant “carnation”. I'm ashamed to admit that ever since that moment, I’ve struggled to subdue a wholly unreasonable resentment towards this lovely, unsuspecting flower species.
Of course, with the benefit of hindsight and (many years of) maturity, I can see how utterly ridiculous this relentless self-flagellation about such minor failures is. Any life coach worth his or her salt would tell me to put these things firmly behind me and move on.  And they would be 100% right.

So that is what the next 12 months are going to be about: changing my paradigm as I flail through my fiftieth year - putting myself to rights. That means I’ll be cutting down on calories (and yes, that includes my favourite cocoa bean derivatives), forcing myself to tackle the mile-high pile of paper on my desk (and the kitchen table and the coffee table and the sitting-room floor ...), and stop punishing myself perpetually for things that happened a very long time ago and that were never really that important in the first place. It’s not going to be easy - nothing that’s worth doing in life ever is – but luckily, I’ve never been afraid of hard work. In fact, I have something to say to you, “Oh 50th year of my life,” (I knew that vocative case that I learned for my Higher Latin would be useful one day...): "BRING IT ON!"


  1. Your writing is an absolute treat. Not mathematically sound by a B but a treat for us English speaking pedants:-)

    1. Thanks for your kind words, V. Had a sudden thought. With my maths being so poor, I was wondering if I could sneak in a few extra years before 50. The French system for numbers after 60 might work e.g. next year I'd be forty-ten, then forty-eleven. That way I'd still not hit 50 for a wee while ;-)

  2. I hear what you're saying... all those resolutions but I'm definitely a glass half full girl - too lazy to be anything else!

    1. Good on you - I'll keep trying. Still got over 350 days to turn it around!