Hazel McHaffie


A question of attitude

Whoops! This was set to be automatically posted on Thursday last week while I was away in Morocco. Looks like it decided to do its own thing, sorry. Anyway here it is a few days late.

Just in case you were idly wondering, I have not yet become a bestseller. Neither have I received an OBE for services to literature. Or reached the A-list celebrity ranks. But I am not despondent.

As I began to say last week, we can learn a lot from failure and disappointment, although it’s often only retrospectively that we can appreciate the lessons.

I started learning this hard fact in my teens so I’ve had plenty of practice. At the age of seventeen (many, many moons ago now) I was all set to go to Birmingham University to study medicine. But then … I failed one of my A-levels. So, not just a bad grade, a fail! How humiliating is that? (Come to think of it, I believe that’s the first time I’ve publicly owned up to this fact!) My parents generously said I could stay on to sit it again but I said, No; if I’d botched so spectacularly in an A-level what chance would I have at medical school? So I changed course and determined to be at the very least a good nurse – better than a mediocre doctor, as I thought then. Cue that rather hackneyed poem by our old friend Anonymous:

If you can’t be a pine on the top of the hill,
Be a shrub in the valley … but be
The best little shrub at the side of the hill;
Be a bush if you can’t be a tree.
We can’t all be captains,
We’ve got to be crew.
There’s something for all of us here;
There is big work to do, and there’s lesser to do
And the task we must do is the near.
If you can’t be a highway, then just be a trail,
If you can’t be the sun, be a star;
It isn’t the size that you win or you fail …
Be the best of whatever you are.

And ever since making that choice I’ve had fabulous opportunities and experiences that have both formed my character and given me skills that have influenced my whole life. Indeed, I have never had cause to regret that teenage decision.

The world of celebrity too is littered with previous failure and disappointment. Take Carol Vorderman – she only achieved a third class degree (although it was from Cambridge).

Or JK Rowling – she received stacks of rejection slips when she first submitted Harry Potter manuscripts to publishers (how sick must they be now?).

And Alan Sugar – he dropped out of school at 16 and resorted to selling car aerials and electrical goods from the back of a van using his savings of £100.

These people have got where they are, reversing their fortunes, not from life handing them success on a plate, but through gritting their teeth in times of hardship, through determination and persistence.

It’s a question of attitude. As many famous people have discovered:
Failure is only the opportunity to begin again, only this time more wisely.’ (Henry Ford)
All my successes have been built on my failures.’ (Benjamin Disraeli)
If you have made mistakes, even serious ones, there is always another chance for you. What we call failure is not the falling down, but the staying down.’ (Mary Pickford)
Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising every time we fail.’ (Confucius)

Not that failure of itself is to be lauded, of course. You need only to look to the world of war, or drug addiction, or mental health, to see what harm losing the battle can do. No, it’s when people have the humility to recognise their own fallibility, coupled with the self-belief and the resolve to rise above misfortune, and the sheer determination to beat the odds, that real success can be achieved.

Onwards and upwards then!

(Curious to think that if I’d passed that exam decades ago I probably wouldn’t be writing a blog today.)

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