You Fail, You Are Not A Failure

Dear Imani,

You are 15 years old as you read this and it is 2010. In August of this year, for some wild and unknowable reason, you will begin to violently hate yourself.

It will truly come out of nowhere and you really cannot pin it on any particular event- though later you will begin to see that perhaps it was just teenage angst checking in like clockwork. Everyday you will want to shrink and disappear and every word you utter will make you wince. You don’t even know what you are running from but you will nonetheless spend every waking moment wishing you hadn’t done or said one ‘stupid’ thing or another.

You have already lost a lot of your spark- I still cannot tell whether this is simply part of growing up or whether the environment you are in is the one that is slowly killing it. Either way, I wish you wouldn’t. I wish you would love yourself more and I wish you would be gentler with yourself. But above all else I wish you would be braver. You were so brave a few years ago. Yes, you are friendly and your voice is often the loudest in a room, but you are so afraid of failure that it cripples you.

You need to learn how to fail Imani. If you don’t, it will kill you and you will never do anything. You’ve never been good at failing. The losses become too personal and you amplify every mistake you’ve made. You take it as public proof of what you’ve always privately known: that you are inadequate and incompetent beyond your wildest dreams. (After you read Lean In you will learn to diagnose this as ‘Imposter Syndrome’). It doesn’t help that you seem to excel academically and otherwise. So, paradoxically, you hate the assumption of success that surrounds you, yet you spend every living moment trying to perpetuate this assumption and protect it at all costs.

Over the next few years you’ll spend so much time worrying about failing, that you are going to pass up many golden opportunities. You’ll even give up some that you earned just because you think you don’t deserve them. (Again, you will read Lean In and Sheryl Sandberg will make you see the folly of this!) On top of that you will be so distracted by doubt that you will forget to appreciate some very real successes you are experiencing, instead discounting them as only luck and chance.

I need you to listen to me: girl, the sooner you just get over yourself, let go, fall flat on your face and not care, the sooner you’ll learn to skate.

I wish I could tell you that you eventually get a complete handle of this and it all ends happily ever after, but you don’t and it doesn’t. You are going to have to wait for a letter from an Imani further in the future, maybe she can tell us. Nonetheless, what this particular future Imani can tell you is this: you are smart but there is still so much you don’t know; you are capable and competent but you still make mistakes- stupid ones even; you are imperfect but you are adequate; you are human and you can do so much if you would only try! You are going to be okay- for the most part.

I love you homegirl.

Your main bish,

Imani from the future

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