Teaching the Joys of Failing

Hello, old friend. It’s been a while. Sorry I haven’t updated you in so long. Quite a bit has happened in this past year that I’ve been away. I just never found the time or energy to write. But I’m back now, at least for the time being, and I have something I want to fill you in on.

This past week I had the privilege of being a camp counselor for Code Longhorn; a week-long conference for rising high school juniors and seniors who are interested in computer science. There were a total of twelve counselors, each working in pairs, and sixty students. As camp counselor I was expected to keep watch over a group of ten students to make sure they didn’t escape leave their holding cell dorm room past curfew hours and to accompany them throughout the day so that students weren’t wandering alone. I was also expected to help during labs each day, to answer questions that came up as students worked on their coding tutorial and robots.

To be honest, I didn’t expect much when I applied for the role. I only heard about it a couple weeks before the start date because of a last-minute need for more helpers. I didn’t have any plans so I figured I might as well offer to help – something to do in my spare time. Little did I know that this week would turn out to be one of the best I’ve had in a long time.

I really don’t know how to describe this past week. I think my favorite part of the whole experience was when the campers were in the lab. As great as it felt to be in a position where I could answer questions and help teach, I actually enjoyed the moments where I wasn’t helping so much more. Towards the end of camp, all the campers signed cards for the counselors and I think this one note in particular sums it up best, “Thanks for making me laugh at my own failures because you’d laugh. You’re always going to be laughing, so I’ll get over failure”. For those that aren’t familiar, programming can be infuriating at times … almost all the time, actually. Sometimes your code just does not work and you don’t know why.

For me, two of the most important traits for a programmer are perseverance and lightheartedness. So when I wasn’t specifically being asked for help, I made it a point to just poke fun at everyone and their work instead. Haha it was actually pretty funny because the instructor called me out and said, “You know they didn’t sign up to be heckled by you, right?” But the great thing about it was that it seemed like that’s exactly what everyone had signed up for. The first couple times the teams wandered over to test their bots they looked so defeated when it did something they weren’t expecting. The more I joked, however, the more everyone seemed to ease up and made testing more of a game.

Every time teams came over they were excited and ready to put me in my place, just so ready to prove me wrong where they believed I was expecting them to fail. I obviously wasn’t, and I’m sure they knew, but it was so much more fun to all act as if that was the case. One of the teams I was assigned especially loved to prove me wrong. Which meant I enjoyed it that much more when they did. I even set up what everyone knew was a near impossible task for their bots and even then they persisted. It was great because I knew this wouldn’t have worked without the right mindset.

These campers could have easily given up at any point and just called it quits. They could have gotten annoyed, stopped trying to improve, and just played games on the computer. What made this whole thing so great for me was that they chose to continue. They chose to accept the challenge and to find joy in this, all too often, frustrating task called coding.

I enjoyed myself so much this past week. Not just the times I spent bothering the campers, but also just hanging out with them, and the other counselors. There were several moments where I found my face hurting from laughing so much. I don’t know that there’s really any lesson that I took away from this camp, maybe just reassurance to keep living life the way I have been. It seems like these past four years of learning and growing paid out in full in this one week.

I Failed I Failed I Failed

Ever since I saw Steins;Gate back in 2011, I’ve always liked how I could relate so easily to the characters and the personal conflicts that take place in the anime. As the years have gone by, that seems to have only been proven more true.

The one scene that has really gotten to me lately is the one where the group read a letter left behind by Suzuha. For those unfamiliar with the show or scene (spoiler), Suzuha is a character in the anime that is sent on a mission to try and change the future. She is sent decades into the past on what the group believed to be a final attempt at saving the world. Due to circumstance she is unable to accomplish her mission and is stuck waiting, having failed, until her timeline catches up with the group to reconvene. However, in waiting she is eventually so overcome with grief that she takes her own life, leaving only a letter behind. A majority of the letter simply being, “I failed” repeated.

I’m probably being over dramatic, but it seems like that scene portrays exactly how I’ve felt this entire past year. It’s just felt like one failure after another. Zero accomplishments, nothing to be proud of and no reason to hold my head up high. More than enough reasons to say that I failed though.

I’ve had nothing but support from my family these past few years. The individual I call my father was the one who pushed me to be ambitious and to apply to this university when I only cared to go to the local college. My mother has watched over me and made sure I was maintaining my health. My sisters have been happy that I was able to go out, to explore and that I was enjoying myself. The university has also supported me. I’ve received financial aid where all that was asked of me in return were good grades and credit hours. I didn’t even have to take a job. I’ve made friends here who have often times made me feel more at home here at the university than I have at my actual home with my family. So much support. And yet, what do I have to show for it? Nothing! Nothing except trash grades and petty excuses.

I’ve had to postpone graduation while those of my class are preparing to walk in May. I currently don’t have an internship or job lined up for the summer. Saying that I’m behind in my classes would probably be one of the greatest understatements of the year. The very least I could have done was make use of what skills I do have and start a personal project or a side-business, but no, not even that.

The thing is though is that what I feel is not regret. If I had to choose a word, it would most likely be guilt. See, when I take a step back from the black box and try to watch what I’ve done, I can’t say that I would change anything – I actually don’t know that I could change anything. My focus has just been shot these past couple years. I’d sit and hear every single word spoken by the professor but would process and retain none of it. My mind tended to be more preoccupied with how I could be spending my time in the student organization that I was involved in. How I could be helping the people I knew there.

Like I said, I have no regrets about it. I made the decision to put my time and efforts into that student organization because that was where I wanted to be, and I’ve received more than I can describe in return for those efforts. However, it’s hard not to feel guilty about all the people I’ve let down in the process. It’s hard not to beat myself up for essentially telling all those who supported me, “thanks, but f you”. And I feel like that’s the way it should be. It obviously should be hard. I’ve made too many mistakes and have wronged too many people to not feel that way. It’s just, I know simply feeling bad will not change anything.

What I really want now is to know how I can best apologize. How I can repay the massive amount of debt that I’ve accumulated so I can be free to be as negligent as I please. The simple answer is to do better. But if I could switch back into academic mode that easily I wouldn’t be in this position.

The Heroes Among Us

If you ask people today whether or not heroes exist you’ll probably get one of three kinds of answers. There are those that may respond with a resounding no, that there are no such things as heroes, that they’re merely only ever characters in novels or movies; characters that we can only fantasize about. Some might respond by saying maybe; there may be or there may not be, but who knows really. There are so many things out there in the universe yet to be discovered, maybe heroes do exist. And then there are those who will, with great confidence, say of course, of course heroes exist. Which category do you feel like you fall under?

Growing up I felt like I knew what constituted a hero.  It wasn’t hard, most heroes in movies and novels displayed rather similar characteristics. I knew heroes were always there for others. It wasn’t uncommon for heroes to be portrayed as someone who used their abilities to help complete strangers. The hero could have just as easily used their powers only for their personal gain, or even be indifferent about a stranger being in danger, but more often than not I saw heroes as people who felt a strong sense of duty to use their abilities to help others. I knew heroes were extremely humble. If I saw someone who accepted fame, glory, or demanded recognition I wrote the individual off as the villain of the story, and was generally right in my assumption. And I also knew heroes were people that made great sacrifices. So many times I saw heroes risk their personal life, their sanity and often even their life for the sake of others. It wasn’t a surprise to see another hero whose only weakness was their concern for others. I knew exactly what made a hero. What I didn’t know, was how to see a hero.

In regards to the question at the beginning I, now, fall into the third category. Often times I’ll hear people wish for heroes to be real. They’ll talk about how much they, or even others, are suffering and how great it would be if heroes suddenly showed up to make the world right, as if they’re waiting for some kind of savior. What I wanted to get off my mind today is the fact that heroes do exist and that they are already here with us. Can you see them? I know I couldn’t see them until these past few years. You see heroes do exist in this reality, but they’re not as we originally imagined them to be. It was hard for me to see them at first, I only ever knew of heroes as those in tights and capes. It was also tricky to me because in this reality they didn’t go by the title of heroes, or superheroes, but rather by a different alias. Have you figured it out, do you know what they’re called?

Friends. When was the last time, if ever, did you see your friends as heroes? I think it’s rather amazing that I can say that my friends are heroes without any sense of irony or exaggeration. This thought has actually come up time and time again, but this is the first time I’m writing about it. I’ve always felt like I would not be here if it weren’t for those that I called friends. These friends of mine are just as I describe heroes to be. They are indiscriminate in helping complete strangers. As I’m a rather reserved person, the way I got to know most of my friends was through them either introducing themselves to me or helping me in someway. The way I saw it, these then strangers saw someone who was alone, felt bad, and sought to keep me company out of pity. Whenever the topic came up though, each one of my friends have always told me, with what I can only see as complete genuineness and sincerity, is that they merely saw another person and thought ‘I should get to know them’; nothing more, nothing less. Not out of pity or concern, but just from the simple idea that we as classmates or people should be friends. And the humility and sacrifices that I just don’t think I can do justice to. How do you describe the kindness of a friend who takes time out of their day to simply keep you company? How do you convey the significance of the relentlessly caring friends who not only see the lonely kids that hide behind fortresses, but also stay long enough to pull them out? How do you even begin to describe the types of friends who you feel you can trust with your life more than you do yourself?

I’ve once been told that we, as people, have limitations; that in the context of dependability and what we can do for one-another, there’s a capacity. While I would have accepted that when I was younger, I now know better. Whether there’s a limit or not, I know that there’s at the very least not an effective / relevant one. That should there truly be a capacity to how much we can do or how much we can care for one another, that it wouldn’t matter because that capacity would be so high.

So this post is for all of those that I have been so fortunate as to call my friends. While others continue to wait for their hero to come, I have chosen to acknowledge the heroes that walk among us.

That Silver Lining

Well, I guess my plan to keep up with this journal didn’t go quite as expected.

Let’s just get right to it; 3 lessons that I learned this crazy semester. Before I lose the urge to write again.

I think the worst thing about this semester was also the greatest learning experience. When you frequently miss meals and find yourself questioning why you bother to pay rent when you’re hardly ever at your apartment, it really starts to hit you that maybe, just maybe, you can’t do everything. Pft, I know right? “Can’t do everything” Ha, good one! Oh, what? You don’t actually think you can do everything? You’re only doing the bare minimum, you say?

I realized this semester that there are at least two kinds of crazy to describe the people that are too busy for their own good. The first is for those who truly believe they can do everything. They sign up for everything that their body can handle, if not more, and acknowledge whatever it is that they’re doing. Fine, you want to be busy, good on you; keep doing what you’re doing, just don’t hurt yourself. The second is the kind of crazy that takes on a lot, but still feels like they are, at best, doing the bare minimum. Similar to the first set of people; they will sign up for things, be involved and commit beyond what they’re actually capable of, but what sets them apart is that they’re either unable to recognize or unable to accept just how much they put in. These delusional people are the type that will continue to try and do as much as they feel their body can handle, pushing it to it’s limits, when in reality their body has already shut down. I fall into this second category.

While no where near as dramatic, it finally hit me this semester just how in over my head I was. Now I’ll be honest, I truly did not do much. I was taking only 14 hours, I did not have a job and I was involved in one student organization. My biggest problem this year was not properly preparing for the shift in workload. Despite being only 14 hours, I struggled. The course I signed up for is said to be the toughest class in the degree program, and while it was something I expected I definitely was not prepared for the massive time sink that was CS 439. In my previous classes I could finish projects within a couple of days, but for this one sometimes I spent an entire week with a team and still did not make any progress. The other classes ended up being rather difficult for me as well, but in hindsight it was probably because I neglected studying for the other classes because my main focus was that behemoth. And then the one student organization.

For the first couple years that I was involved in this organization my academic schedule was rather lax; I was able to keep up just fine so I always tried to commit 100%. I attended as many events as I possibly could and helped whenever people were willing to accept it. For no reason, really. Prior to college I didn’t have much to work for (besides UIL) and I wanted to change that. Liked the organization, liked the people, why not? I had the honor of being elected as vice-president of the student organization this year so that means I am one of eight officers. As officers we are leaders of the organization and are thus responsible for maintaining it. We also have the responsibility of overseeing a group of “directors”, leaders of the organization in their own right, but basically anointed members who help us officers make the organization what it is. This is where the problem started and so, without further ado:

Lesson 1: Letting Go (cue Frozen soundtrack)

It was great being able to be as involved as I wanted the first couple years, but boy was that shut down this year. Coming into this semester as an officer I was determined to be there for my directors. I wanted to get to know each and every one of them and to be someone they could come to if they had any troubles, whether it be related to the organization or not. To make them feel at home, just as my past two officers did for me when I was a director. I wanted to personally make sure that, if they got nothing else, my directors would be able to walk away from the organization feeling confident about their abilities to pursue whatever it is that they want to pursue. I quickly realized that I was lucky if I even had time to debrief them on their responsibilities, much less actually walk through how to do everything. Coming into this year I had plenty of warnings. Countless members of the organization, past officers, returning directors and even alumni cautioned me to pull back the year prior. I knew it was something I needed to work on. I kind of built my schedule, purposely taking the tough class, to help teach myself that lesson; I expected to be busy enough to not be able to be that involved, but when it actually happened … it was hard. See, it’s not that I felt like I needed to be there, I knew things wouldn’t crash and burn if I wasn’t there for the organization 24/7. I simply wanted to be there 24/7. I wanted to not only help build and maintain what I’ve come to see as my second home, but to also share in the fun. For members to become directors they first had to go through an application process that included an interview. I knew all my directors were competent, I knew they were hard workers; there’s no reason for me to need to be actively involved, but I want to be. I wanted to get to know my directors. Really get to know the people that I was working with to maintain this organization. And not just my directors, but all of the directors. Heck, all of the members. Ideally, every single person within the organization. Although, being the introvert I am, even if I had the time I probably wouldn’t talk to anywhere near that many people, but I would have liked to slowly get to know as many of my extended family as possible.

But obviously none of that was possible. It wasn’t until I had a couple talks with our president that I was able to start pulling back. I wasn’t doing much to begin with this semester, but even not much turned out to be too much considering my coursework. So that’s where the first lesson finally comes in. It’s not something I’ve fully accepted, but I am slowly coming to terms with it. I just have to go back to the introvert ways of being involved, by listening to others’ stories. If the end goal is for members of the organization is to enjoy themselves, to have a home and to walk away as more capable individuals, it shouldn’t matter whether I see that or not, just as long as I know it’s happening. Right?

Lesson 2: Maintaining Friendships

Ah, the lost art of maintaining friendships. This is probably the lesson I am most grateful for at the moment. While I can by no means say that I put in a great amount of effort to maintain friendships, even now, I do feel I’ve put in more this semester alone than I have in the past decade combined. As the “anti-social” kid, I wasn’t exactly known for reaching out to others to schedule hangouts, or even just to talk. I actually realized long ago just how fortunate I am to even have one person to call a friend, much less several who are close friends, considering how little effort I actually put into these friendships. I won’t go into the details of just how terrible of a person I am when it comes to not reaching out to others, but trust me when I say I should not have any friends. People are truly just too kind, and for that I am grateful.

So, the unexpected lesson of this semester. The way things usually worked was that my friends at the university would invite me out to things, I would almost always say yes because my schedule was either open or completely flexible and life would go on. This year though, I realized people can only try and schedule things with you so many times before they get tired of being rejected or start to think that you just don’t want to hang out. The only solution then was for me to start making an effort in scheduling time for my friends. I started taking more of an initiative to schedule hangouts, made my schedule much more transparent and just started the scheduling by listing out exactly what times I could guarantee that I would be free, and messaged those that I couldn’t hangout with in person and just catching up with them via chat.

Don’t get me wrong. I always have and still do cherish all of my friends greatly, not taking the initiative to maintain friendships has always been an introvert and low-self-esteem thing as opposed to not caring enough to put in the effort or anything like that. It wasn’t until this semester though that I realized just how much some of those friends meant to me, and what exactly it meant to show that to them.

Lesson 3: Fitness as a Lifestyle

Alright so this is the one that makes me want to facepalm the most. Prior to going back to college I was so gungho about having a workout regimen going, finally getting used to running, yadda yadda, school starts and I don’t go to the gym even once. At the end of the day, I felt like my body was still functioning properly, I still had the strength to help others, and I was constantly tired … many things were at the top of my list, albeit some should have been higher like sleep, but working out was definitely not up there. But I couldn’t just let me body rot while my brain was being overclocked the entire semester so I just started making my daily routine a workout.

Cardio was probably the easiest one. My biggest motivator for walking and running over the summer break was to build up to living off-campus, and thus walking to and from campus everyday. I am happy to say that I was properly prepared, maybe even over-prepared. The daily walk usually didn’t feel like enough so I decided to just walk everywhere instead of taking the bus. I probably take twice as long to buy groceries than I would have just taking the bus, but walking serves several purposes so justified. The miles easily added up. It was great; if nothing else, I wasn’t being a total bum this semester.

After a while I also started walking my laundry to the laundromat. This one I’m less excited about. The original plan was to go with my roommate whenever he did laundry … suffice to say our schedules didn’t allow for such wishful thinking. We were hardly in the apartment at the same time, much less around long enough to do laundry together. He of course always offered to go on my time, but I always felt bad bothering him. So the next logical step, walking the laundry myself. Almost a mile? It definitely helped to keep my arms from reverting back to completely useless sticks, but boy did it suck carrying that basket of clothes. After doing this a couple times though I just accepted it; made for a decent substitute workout. On days where I wasn’t feeling up to the challenge I just put some of my clothing into an old backpack and just backpacked there for emergency cleaning. One of my fellow officers within the organization offered his place to do laundry so the couple of times we drove to his place, I brought my laundry along … definitely can’t thank him enough for that.

So that’s how I managed to make this semester work in terms of physical activity. Definitely not the workout routine I had in mind, but I’m kind of glad things worked out the way it did. I’ve always touted for more natural ways of doing things so incorporating physical activity into my daily routine instead of setting out a separate time for the gym seemed fitting.


One of these days I’ll finally want to go back and read these posts … I’ll probably beat myself up for making each one a long-winded novel.

Treat Yourself as You Wish to Treat Others

So usually the saying you teach kids is something along the lines of, “treat others as you’d like to be treated” or “do to others as you would have them do to you”. Well I realized that what I really needed to focus on was treating myself as I wished to treat others. Basically the same idea, hopefully the same results, but very different mindsets.

While it’s fine to hold yourself to higher standards than for those around you, I feel like there’s a fine line between that and just being outright spiteful to yourself. Sadly, I feel like I crossed that line years ago. I don’t know what it is. Whenever someone else makes a mistake, whether it be small or of catastrophic proportions, I’m usually more concerned with making sure the other person isn’t filled with guilt for what they’ve done. I’d tell them that it’s nothing to beat themselves up over and I do what I can to help them try to get past it. I’m usually pretty quick to move past mistakes that others make. Besides making sure the mistake doesn’t happen again, there really doesn’t seem to be any reason for a person to feel guilty about a mistake they made or if they performed below others’ expectations.

When it came to myself, however, it was an entirely different story. I realized that whenever I did something that wasn’t as I expected I mentally beat myself up. I can’t even give examples of the kind of verbal lashings I gave myself because, honestly, it was never words. I noticed that what I did instead was bring up the emotions and feelings from either times that I’ve been lectured or been in a position where I felt powerless or inadequate. All the emotional turmoils from years of living, fair game to come back as soon as I made even the smallest mistake or misstep. I would feel like I was the most useless person in the world for, let’s say, spilling a drink or scoring a couple points below expectations on an assignment. And it did nothing for me. Because I felt like crap, I was in no position to fix whatever mistake I made or to improve. I was always so hung up on what went wrong that I couldn’t focus on doing better the next time. I suppose I react to others’ mistakes the way that I do because ultimately I know how destructive this mindset can be and how pointless it all is.

A couple years ago I realized how negative of an impact that mentality had on me and so I sought to fix it. I don’t believe there was much that I actually did to try and change. I just made an effort to be more conscious of the act and tried to shut it down as soon as it started. So that’s how I made slow progress. At the end of that year I got to a point where I was able to stop the thoughts almost as soon as they came up and instead of beating myself up for making a mistake I simply sought to fix it. I started treating myself as I treated others and simply told myself to move on, to not dwell on the mistake, and to instead seek to fix it; “no harm, no foul” was the new mantra.

It wasn’t until this past year that I thought more about it and deemed that even that wasn’t enough. Sure I was able to shut down the thoughts as soon as they came up, but the fact is they still formed; I was quieting the symptoms while ignoring the actual problem. In the end, whatever I did wrong would still stick out in my memory like a sore thumb. I actually didn’t have this realization until I saw the same mindset in a friend. I remember one thing she repeatedly reminded me throughout the year was to not beat myself up just because things didn’t go as planned. At the time I thought that was crazy, “why is she telling me this, of all people, I stopped doing that a year ago”? Well the more time I spent with her the more I understood why. It’s not something she was very vocal about, but I could definitely see the all-too-familiar look of defeat and self-inflicted spite. I realized she cautioned me so much about it because she knew first-hand just how toxic that kind of mentality was and what it could turn into.

So that’s where I am at. I wish I could end this with the usual, “and so I wanted to fix it and thus I did”, but now it’s a matter of changing mindsets and that tends to be much more difficult as there’s no basis or instructions to help me do so. Sure you can see others be happy and joke about their mistakes and physically you can do the same, but the mentality will still remain. I know it’s toxic and I’ve already shut down the symptoms, but now I think I need to focus on the root cause. Maybe from there I’ll be able to change my outlook completely.