Her life was at a crossroads. At the age of 27 she was barely making ends meet. She was working two jobs, at Disneyland and at an office, making just enough to pay her portion of the rent for the 2 bedroom apartment she shared with a roommate. With only a high school education she did not think she would be able to afford Orange County living much longer. She was debating moving back to her family home in New England. She did not have a job there, but she had family and a lower cost of living.
I asked her if she was going to school or had considered it. Her reply surprised and saddened me.
“I don’t have much self confidence,” she said, “I am afraid that I will not do well in school.”
It wasn’t just the reality of her low self worth that bothered me, it was the fact that her sense of worth was tied more to academic achievements and professional accomplishments than it was to who she was as a person. This attitude, when combined with her anxiety disorder, was paralyzing her. She felt badly about herself and she wasn't sure her fragile sense of self could withstand the threat of failure she associated with college.
I thought of how I could encourage her. I gained inspiration from an unexpected source. What came to mind were words I had heard Vin Scully, the great announcer for the Dodgers, say during a baseball game many years ago. The Dodgers had fallen behind after a fielder had dropped a ball. After commenting how the game would have been different if the ball had been caught, he said, “The saddest words of tongue or pen are those that read, ‘What might have been.’”
I shared the story with her, that regret at previous mistakes need not consume her, and that fear of future failings not lead to lifetime of regret, how sad it would be if later in life she found herself wondering how her life would have been different if she had only tried going to school. I encouraged her to consider counseling to help her overcome here low self-esteem, anxiety and fear.
I shared with her that I had similar self doubt when I started college. I thought I was smart enough for college but I was certain that I was no where near intelligent enough to pursue a career in medicine. I was interested in health care and, thinking I could be a registered nurse, signed up for a course in anatomy and physiology. The class included two weekly physiology lectures and a Wednesday evening anatomy lab course.
Each week in the lab included a quiz on the previous week’s instruction. To my surprise, I went 11 weeks in a row without missing a question. The professor recognized my potential and each week asked me, “Are you going to go to medical school?”
Each week I answered, “I can’t go to medical school.”
Each time he answered back, “You should go to medical school.”
His words stuck. A year later, after Lisa and I had been married for about 6 months, I found myself wondering, “Could I go to medical school?” The words of Vin Scully gave me motivation. I did not want my future self to look back wondering what might I been. I decided that I had to try. I feared failure, but I faced those fears.
I encouraged her to think about trying. It seems to me that failing to try is worse than trying and failing.