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Letter From The Editor: Hungry (For It)


A well of pure rage

by Meg Keene, Editor-In-Chief

Letter From The Editor: Hungry (For It) | A Practical Wedding

I’ve always been into Olympic Figure Skating. I know, it’s the stereotypical girly thing, and I’m supposed to prove something by being really into slalom instead. But fuck it, in many ways, I’m pretty stereotypically girly, and I claim that shit. Sure, I like ice-skating because it’s sparkly and pretty. But I also love it because it’s strong—it’s a stylistically super femme embrace of going fast and jumping high.

Watching the Olympics this year, I was reminded that there is something else that keeps me coming back to that ice. I don’t just love the jumps and the artistry, I love the pure fire and determination—the unabashed drive of those women to win. To be number one. To destroy everyone and everything standing in their way. For all that the New York Times (not inaccurately) commented that ice skating costumes look like “a streetwalker’s notion of a fairy princess,” the glitter and sequins don’t mask the ambition. It’s not exactly the most socially condoned trait for women in our culture, but once every four years we celebrate it, ruffles and all.

Pure drive has been one of my defining traits for as long as I can remember. (Maybe she’s born with it… maybe she’s born with it.) There is a family story of me learning to roller skate. I was an (medically) uncoordinated kid, and the basics of things like skating and riding a bike did not come easily to me. But around five, I decided that if the other kids could learn to skate, I could too. So I strapped on those plastic Fisher Price skates that go over your shoes, and started going back and forth on our patio, where I had a ledge to hold on to. My mom says she watched out the window while I went back and forth, back and forth. In the beginning I had to hold on to the ledge, and then I graduated to unassisted wobbly straight lines, and I kept going till it got easy. That all sounds normal enough, until you get to the part of the story where it took me three full days to master it. For three days, I’d wake up, strap on my skates, and go back and forth. My mom said she had no idea why I wanted to do it, since I never displayed a particular love of skating after the fact, but I can tell you why I did it: I just wanted to fucking skate. If the other kids could do it, I was going to do it, and I was not going to let it beat me, whatever it took. On the third day, when I got it, and put away the skates, my parents wondered what on earth this personality trait would mean as an adult.

It’s meant a lot of things. It’s meant a lot of heartache, a lot of failure, and an ocean of tears. Thankfully, it’s also meant the ability to pick myself up, dust off my skates, and keep going. Back and forth, back and forth. It’s meant my ability to harness my seething fury when people underestimated me to just keep going back and forth. I knew I had it, and if they couldn’t see it, they weren’t worth my time.

When those tiny Russian teenagers took the ice at the Olympics, like recognized like. Adelina Sotnikova was supposed to be the Russian ice skating star of the games, and the two-years-younger Yulia Lipnitskaya had eclipsed her by taking first in both of the team events. A commentator describing Sotnikova’s gold-medaling performance said, “When she took the ice, it was clear that Adelina Sotnikova just wasn’t having it.” And I could see that part of her performance came from a well of pure rage. It was a well I could identify, because it’s in me too. That rage and drive can be crushing; it can be heartbreaking. It can be hard to sleep because your mind can’t stop going back and forth, back and forth. But in the end, it’s your fuel.

You’re hungry for it. You need it. You may not get it, but you’re determined to keep trying. And all the sparkly dresses in the world aren’t going to mask it.

(For an in-depth look at issues of femininity and class in American figure skating, this Believer Magazine article about the Kerrigan/Harding story is well worth your time.)

Photo by Yuri Kadobnov/AFP/Getty Images

Meg Keene

Meg is the Founder and EIC of APW. Her first book, A Practical Wedding: Creative Solutions for Planning a Beautiful, Affordable, and Meaningful Celebration, was published in January 2012, and has been a top three bestseller on the wedding bookshelf ever since. Meg has her BFA in Drama from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and son. For more than you ever wanted to know about Meg, you can visit MegKeene.com.

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  • Helen S.

    This completely captures why I love the olympics. You can get into any weird sport you’ve never even heard of, because it is not about showmanship like professional sports can be sometimes, it is a celebration of athleticism and drive. If you practice that kind of determination and drive when you are young, it becomes a life skill that is applicable to whatever you become in adulthood after you are done figure skating (or roller skating :) ).

  • http://www.devabydefinition.com/ Deva C.

    This: “That rage and drive can be crushing; it can be heartbreaking. It can be hard to sleep because your mind can’t stop going back and forth, back and forth. But in the end, it’s your fuel.” is so me, quite often, even when I don’t seem that way. I come across as timid and shy because I worry about offending people but inside I am driven and sure and hopeful.

  • http://breckwinokur.com/ Breck

    “And I could see that part of her performance came from a well of pure rage.”

    Chills. I have a very good feeling about this month.

  • Jackie

    I can already tell that the posts this month are going to push me to be the best __________ that I can be. Best human, best woman, best wife, best worker, etc. And that’s why I love this site. You push people in the very best way.

  • Laura C

    I’m looking forward to this month here because I’m so not hungry for anything much. I’m like the poster child for a medium-high amount of effort everywhere but no giant drive for anything. So a month of reading about hunger is going to be interesting.

    • Gina

      Oh my gosh, me too! I was reading this wishing I could feel the rage. Hoping this month inspires me to find whatever it is that makes me feel driven again.

      • KC

        This may not be a popular opinion, but I think it’s okay for there to be variation, and very okay for there to be people who are happy *not* at the top. I especially think this in terms of money/career – you need leaders, and you also need followers; you need people who are pushing the edges of their field, and you need people who are continuing to work in that field in the not-boundary-pushing-but-still-necessary parts.

        (think medicine: you very much need researchers and doctors who are interested in the weirdest, most out-there cases, or the most previously-hopeless causes, but you also need people who will deal with the plain ol’ ear infections or the non-complex sprained ankles or the well-baby checkups; and you need the people who will sit and schedule appointments and cope with the paperwork; and you need the people who will keep the waiting room clean so you don’t get sick every time you go to the doctors’ office; and it’s okay to be any of these.)

        That said, “can’t” does tend to motivate me to an unhealthy degree. So there’s that.

        But in general, I’m not a game-set-match or burn-up-the-ice-to-beat-others sort of person. I’m a putter-y, invent-y, do-my-own-thing-y, add-small-bits-of-light-y sort of person. And I think there are very good things in that bucket, too.

        • Laura C

          I agree that it’s very okay for there to be people who are happy not at the top. For me, thinking about that very often leads back into thinking about relationships and gender roles, the way that for men, “having it all” means fighting to be at the top of their profession, held up by a wife who does all the work of home and family, while for women, “having it all” means fighting to be at the top of their profession AND doing the work of home and family. When it’s a man trying to get to the top, there’s only room for one big-time career in a family; when a woman is trying, there basically has to be room for two. Anyway of course that’s not the only way to be hungry, just the one that tends to spring to my mind. And far from the only way I’m not hungry, and really I’m ok with that. Which is admittedly in large part class (and other) privilege at work, because I never had to be hungry to wind up someplace comfortable and rewarding.

          • Meg Keene

            “because I never had to be hungry to wind up someplace comfortable and rewarding.”

            Just pulling that out because it’s super interesting to me. That wasn’t true for me. Not that I didn’t have my share of advantages that helped me find a way out paired with huge drive, but that was so far from being true for me to begin with. It’s impossible to say how much that played into what was clearly natural personality anyway. But it’s all wrapped up together, for sure.

            Also, yes to the gender issues. Even if you’re the more hungry one as a woman, you’re constantly having to make space. Partially because men are typically not allowed much flexibility in their careers, even if they don’t want to end up in the c-suite. Which means someone has to make room, and unless you have two full time nannies (literally) it’s going to be you.

          • Laura C

            I don’t know what relation my privilege had to my (lack of) hunger; obviously there are many people with all kinds of privilege who are very hungry. I look at my life and I realize that there are people for whom this would have been the goal toward which they clawed and fought, so I just don’t know. Maybe if I’d started with less and felt my options more constrained, I would have fought until I got somewhere close to here. Or maybe I would have found my comfort in some other way.

            I think it’s relevant though that I had a strong model for how I am. My parents are both full professors at decent schools; this is a great position to be in. But my father is a total workaholic who you could imagine having gone full out for the career. Instead, my parents’ careers were equally important and they shared childcare and household tasks. Given that, and especially given the time he dedicates to politics as well, my dad is very productive at work. But he probably did give up a lot, careerwise, for it, and for most of my childhood he slept like a working mother, which is to say not very much. Because he believed in this set of priorities. I went to daycare from very early on and I went to afterschool programs until I was old enough to come home to an empty house, but then my dad picked me up and either took me to dinner or we made dinner together. That you should fight to balance work and family, to actually organize your life around that, male or female, is maybe my strongest example. And the more examples I see of people who grab for the big career success, at least of the kind our social and economic structure is built around, the more convinced I am that there’s really only room for one such person in any relationship.

          • Meg Keene

            There is room for two… but… only if one of you works for yourself or has an otherwise flexible job. That’s increasingly my opinion. Otherwise I think the odds may just be too stacked against you.

            IE, I’m able to type this while the baby tries to put himself to sleep in the crib.

        • Gina

          Thank you so much for saying this. I’ve always thought I would be one of those people pushing to be at the top when I got to my career, and now that I’m here, I realize how exhausted that makes me. I can push hard for a while, but then I get burnt out and I just want to go back to working 40-hour weeks and reading magazines and baking bread. Life balance is so much easier to achieve when you’re not at the top.

          I love your description of yourself! What would we do without the putter-y, add-small-bits-of-light people?

          • Meg Keene

            Yeah, this is why I work for myself. 60 hour work weeks didn’t work for me, not being allowed to be driven without them didn’t work for me either. Not that I bake bread (though it would be good for slowing me down), but still. I do like balance.

          • http://www.smittenchickens.com/ Sarah Hoppes

            I’m currently back in the 60 hour work week model, and I feel unhealthy, stressed, exhausted, not emotionally connected, and anxious. But, it’s just our particular reality at this moment. I had a year or so to build my passion work into something that could be sustainable while he worked crazy hours to support us both. Now, he’s gotten a huge opportunity to pursue his big crazy goals, and it’s my turn to provide some support. But, driven as I feel I am, I am not cut out for this system. I realize I’m privileged in my ability to stop being a part of that system at some point, but I genuinely wonder what I’d do if that wasn’t an option.

          • KC

            Seasons. All about the seasons and tradeoffs. (and hooray for being in a place, geographically and economically, where the overly-intense part *is* just a season or a year or two, not from day one until you die)

            (hope this gets better for you soon!)

          • http://www.smittenchickens.com/ Sarah Hoppes

            Thanks!! There’s a post on apw (probably many) about how these things shift between each person in a marriage, so we’ve been reminding ourselves for a while now. It helps to think of it all as seasons to keep some perspective.

          • malkavian

            I feel the same way. Not to mention I was diagnosed with a chronic illness as a young adult, so sometimes doing more than that just isn’t feasible for me.

          • http://www.therewm.com/ Rachel W. Miller

            Have you read “The End of Men”? I don’t agree with all the author’s conclusions in the book but it’s a good read, and there’s something in there that she said about how women are raised now to be SO driven that maybe we’re just burned out and we just want to sit around and read magazines once in a while by the time we’re 30. The point hit me SO hard. (I need to look up the exact quote.) Because I think so many women can relate to that, and I think there IS that pressure mentioned above to keep pushing yourself to the top…and then there’s the guilt when you’re just over it after a while and want everyone to go away so you can read a magazine and paint your nails.

        • Meg Keene

          Is that not a popular opinion? Of course it’s ok! Part of what I’m writing about here is what it feels like to be way out on the edge of the bell curve, where I’ve spent my whole life, in terms of ambition. It’s honestly, not necessarily something I’d wish on someone. Being on the edge of the bell curve is always a little isolating, and this sort of drive means you have to spend a lot of your life teaching yourself about finding satisfaction.

          Anyway, collectively, many of my life long friends do NOT share this trait with me, and I love that about them. Counterbalance.

          (Also, just in terms of basic employment—it’s taken me awhile to learn that you REALLY need to have people on a team that are happier being, as Lucy would call it “world’s best second banana.” Those people are as, if not more, important to getting anything done as first bananas. The world—or a team—cannot run on first bananas alone. In fact, having a bunch of first bananas around is unpleasant. Balance in all things.)

          • KC

            I’ve gotten flack for it (esp. because of my “potential” – some people have really, thoroughly not understood that I am typically most happy as a second banana, and I’d rather contribute to the world than impress the world, and in general I’d much rather be behind the scenes than on stage – you can just plain *get more done* if you’re not having to also deal with PR and marketing).

            Also, it’s often considered non-feminist in a similar way as having a career in a female-dominated field instead of a male-dominated field can be – so, since I picked a male-dominated field, not “rising to the heights” is in some way letting everyone down. (don’t get me wrong; I’ve done very, very good work in my little corner of my field, but I’d rather do the work than manage, and I’d rather work for non-profits and small businesses than for big corporate, and I’d rather not talk at conferences, and these are the directions of visible upward motion that are available in my little corner) I really do get the importance of having highly visible and vocal examples/mentors, but honestly, I’m a very private person in some ways, and I’ve taken enough fire that I’d generally rather duck out of the limelight at this point unless it’s a really safe space or *really* important. And that’s not terribly popular either; preferring to be partly invisible instead of splaying your entire life open, although that’s a bit of a different matter than being content vs. “hungry”.

            So, I wasn’t sure whether it would be considered an acceptable opinion locally, esp. considering the month’s topic. :-) (and hooray that it is! And yes, yay Lucy, we totally need second bananas, and that’s my preferred position, although I will sometimes be first banana if something is important to get moving and no Proper First Banana can be found for it.)

          • KC

            (note: I’m realizing that, potentially like the fat/skinny both-body-types-get-trash-talk thing, this may be something where Visibly Driven people get one kind of slamming and people who actively resist traditionally-Driven goals get a different kind of slamming, and potentially from different people – but the “opposite” kind may be generally sort of invisible, since each type doesn’t necessary hear the other kind)

          • http://brokensaucer.blogspot.com/ sera

            How much of it is slamming each other and how much of it is “grass is greener” syndrome. Perhaps it’s the driven people that will question other’s inability to be driven, and perhaps it’s the second bananas that will question the motivations of the driven. We’re all complex people, with complex reasons for questioning others. Add that to our ability to slam ourselves and then we’re on the bad side.

          • Meg Keene

            As someone who now manages, let me just tell you it’s FULL of downsides. IE, I want to write, but I have about four essays of other people’s to edit first, and a week of content to lay out so Lucy can take care of it. So my list of “taking care of other people” is pretty long, and I can only get to “taking care of me” when it’s done.

            We talk about leadership in a lot of bananas ways (<– see what I did there!) but really, leadership is service. And service can be a real pain in the ass sometimes :)

          • KC

            Oh, I totally know it’s full of downsides. That’s why I don’t want to do it! :-)

          • jashshea

            Best description of leadership I’ve ever heard/read.

          • rys

            You know, one of the reasons I like service work (I’m an academic) is that it lets me lead quietly in certain ways. I love editing, advising, strategizing, etc and I don’t need to be the public face (though I sure as hell better get credit — one of my huge red flags is organizations and people who rely on the service of others without crediting them). And within my work circles, this type of service lets me exert influence (because, let’s face it, I’m opinionated and I like telling people what to do — one of my friends calls me her life coach, which draws on both my listening skills and my querying ones) — in ways that fit my skill set.

          • rys

            This is really interesting to me because I am ambitious/hungry/out there (in my field) and very private (in my personal life). In other words, for me, these spaces are very different and I feel and act quite differently. I have no problem getting up at a conference and giving a paper, or delivering a talk, or participating in challenging conversations. In my personal life, however, I am reticent, I tend to do a lot of (and am very comfortable) observing at parties, and I’m much happier behind-the-scenes than on stage.

          • http://brokensaucer.blogspot.com/ sera

            I’m totally a second banana.

        • http://brokensaucer.blogspot.com/ sera

          I’m not sure having the rage to succeed necessarily means having the need to be the best. To me, those are two different things. I would argue that a lot of athletes have the rage to be the best they can be for themselves. Competition may drive you to be better, but knowing your self and how best to challenge yourself, to drive yourself back and forth across the deck is what success is.

          • Meg Keene

            True story.

    • http://brokensaucer.blogspot.com/ sera

      I think at this point I’m hungry to find the hunger, I’m feeling the rage to find the rage. I’ve spent so much time not putting myself out there because I wasn’t sure where to put myself, and rather than content, I have spent a lot of time living in complacency, then disappointment, then fear, then sadness. I want to know what it’s like to be one of the people that can say, yeah, that sucked, but I tried really hard.

      • Amanda

        I could have written this. I so know exactly what you’re saying.

      • http://brokensaucer.blogspot.com/ sera

        and, I want to be able to stand up and say, I’m really proud that I tried really hard.

      • Jen

        So agreed. I am constantly wishing that I was more driven. I have dreams, but I don’t really have passions and therefore I am not sure how far I will go to pursue my dreams. Of course, this means, I might have less regrets, but I still fear missing out because I didn’t try hard enough.

      • http://breckwinokur.com/ Breck

        It seriously took me something like 5 years for the hunger to eat away (HAH) at my fear of failure and give me some rage. Reading here (and other quality materials that detail women kicking ass) and, honestly, getting kind of jealous of other people pursuing their dreams helped get me over the hump.

    • Sara

      I’m in this boat with you. In fact, this is the argument I have with my mother constantly. She says I have no passion – which, while true doesn’t mean I don’t have enjoyment. Sure, I’m not hungry to be the best or be the leader or run the show, but I am happy getting the best work out of what I sign up to do – I volunteer, I have an active social life, I have a good job and I have time to watch Scandal every week. She struggles to relate because she’s so damn competitive she only really plays to win, where as I’m just happy to be playing the game.

      Though I’ll add, nothing pisses me off more than telling me ‘You won’t” or “can’t” do something. That’s when that latent competitive streak flares up. I decide what I will or won’t do, not someone else.

      • Meg Keene

        I feel like “playing to win” is a whole other subset of personalities. I have a little bit of that, but honestly, not a ton. Once I figured out how to skate, I didn’t go join a competitive skating league, you know? The driven, and the playing to win, are different personalities I think.

  • Bets

    I love your skating story! I also struggle with coordination with skating and riding a bike. It took me more than a week to learn to ride a bike without training wheels, and for the longest time I begged my parents *not* to take them off. I think what it was, most, was a fear of letting go – with biking or skating or swimming, I was okay as long as I could hold onto a ledge or had tricycle wheels to support me, but the thought that I had to trust myself to do this on my own was really daunting. That fear was something that I could only overcome on my own and with great patience.

  • http://www.sophiaspockets.wordpress.com/ AutumnE

    Yes and Yes. After a slew of rejections last week…this is my monday, “I knew I had it, and if they couldn’t see it, they weren’t worth my time.” Hell, that’s my new I am a writer mantra.

    • http://brokensaucer.blogspot.com/ sera

      Totally. They weren’t worth your time. <3

  • http://www.smittenchickens.com/ Sarah Hoppes

    I think it’s interesting you put the skates down once you got what you wanted. It reminds me of when I tried out for the high school cheerleading team, despite most odds being stacked against me. I was bookish, slightly chubby, highly uncoordinated, and had plenty of friends but was never “popular.” Case in point: I was a state finalist in competitive creative writing and competitive agricultural policy public speaking, a drama nerd, and later went on to join the golf team.

    For whatever reason, I got it into my head that I wanted to be a cheerleader, although I’d never taken a gymnastics or dance class in my entire life. I worked my butt off for months practicing cartwheels and flips in my backyard, to the degree that my family worried out loud that I might seriously injure myself.

    If anyone has seen the episode of “Buffy” where Dawn tries out for the cheerleading team under a powerful love spell and bombs horribly, that was basically was my tryout looked like. I hit the coaches’ table with my feet while doing a cartwheel and they asked me to, “Please stop.” I obviously never because a cheerleader.But I didn’t really think of that epic failure as that much of a failure. I set my sights on something, tried really hard, and made myself better. I didn’t get what I wanted, but life went on. For the rest of high school and college, I happily worked my butt off at the nerdy pursuits I loved. Learning to work super hard, embarrass myself, be vulnerable, maybe fail, and keep trucking on to the next is a skill that’s kept me from losing my mind in my adult life.

    • Meg Keene

      That brings up one of the main things I’ve learned so far in life: if you’re driven, you have to learn to fail hard and fail early and often. Otherwise the first failure is going to knock you out of the game, possibly forever. That ability to fail harder than almost anyone else is willing to, and then (cry) get up, and go again, is possibly more important than actual talent. The skills will catch up with you eventually, after enough epic falls. All my favorite people to work with are people who failed one zillion times already, and probably have one zillion fails ahead of them.

      • http://brokensaucer.blogspot.com/ sera

        Somewhere early on I learned not to try because I will fail, and more so, I will disappoint. I’m wondering if there is a difference / connection (I’m still hashing out this thought in my brain) between being born with drive and being trained to keep going when you fail. I have always been a hard worker and I distinctly remember moments like your roller skating story where I tried and tried and tried until I sorted it out, but I also faced a lot of judgement early on from family and people I trusted. For example, when my grandma was teaching me how to embroider and I showed her what I had done, she pointed out all of my mistakes and asked “why would you do that?” I was 9.
        I feel I am simultaneously driven by others to produce work (because I am less compelled to so something for myself) and yet highly susceptible to how others receive that work especially when it matters to me.
        I have a friend who I consider to be very successful. We were having this conversation about when is the right time to quit something, when you’re fed up, tired, bored, when. I have so often in my life defaulted to holding on because I think whatever I have is the best I’ll ever get (jobs) and because how could I possibly pay the rent, and now, contribute to my baby family if I just give up. To which she explained that she thinks of herself as a quitter, she goes full force until she’s done and then she quits, moves on, does something else. I have spent the last year watching her go through the stages of being ready to quit, quitting, and almost immediately jumping into the next thing without being even vaguely sure it’s what she wants. It’s been fascinating.
        Meg,

        • Meg Keene

          I think you’re on to something here. I suspect that if you happen to be born with drive, and your particular family handicap (all families have a few, right?) is that “if you fail you disappoint people,” then it’s going to make you play it safe. (My handicap is that I was stuck in pretty shitty circumstances, so that then taught me to do WHATEVER it took to get out, which ended up working, but has it’s own kinds of bagage).

          I’ve had to learn quitting, and I’m getting better at it. I spent a lot of time in my 20s hanging on to jobs that were soul crushing hell holes, because I thought if I left no one would hire me ever again, and I wouldn’t survive. I learned that when something is a soul crushing hell hole, you do everything you can go get out as fast as you can. It never gets better from there, pretty much. (Now, sometimes it takes a lot of time to escape, but you start working on getting out as soon as you realize it’s bad.) I’m also learning at the moment that if something isn’t somehow personally or professionally rewarding (ie, if I don’t have a strong internal reason to do it) I can’t just do it to do someone a favor or be nice. Because it takes time and effort away from more important stuff. Learning to say “No thanks” to nice people is my current struggle.

          • http://www.smittenchickens.com/ Sarah Hoppes

            I think the reactions we get to failure when we’re young play a huge role in how we feel about risk taking and processing failure. My mom teaches special education and always has 15 different ways to tackle the same problem. She just keeps throwing analogies, real life examples, props, whatever out until something clicks. She also grew up with horses, and started having horses again when I was a kid, and she taught me to (literally, painfully, very much against my tears and wishes) get back up on the horse when you get knocked down. When you’re younger, you absorb so much of the words and actions of everyone around you without necessarily realizing it. I think if she had been a different person with a different attitude, I’d have a totally different outlook on the subject.

        • Lena and Aggy

          This is such a good topic. I’d say I’ve been relatively failure-less, but it’s only because I’ve learned to reframe what counts as a failure (perhaps because I’m the selfish and self-absorbed fourth-and-youngest child). By my siblings standards, I probably am a total failure (they all have career trajectories, stable relationships, and 5-year plans, whereas I’ve taken travel sabbaticals, left good paying jobs with benefits, started my own writing business that came in with a pretty muted whimper and is only now starting to get some traction), but I just keep going the way of the Wizard and telling everyone “This is exactly going according to plan! No need to look behind the curtain.” Meanwhile, I’m having weekly cryfests about how I’m almost 30 and not at all where I thought I’d be.

          • http://brokensaucer.blogspot.com/ sera

            “reframe” is one of the best words ever. Jonathan Fields of Good Life Project (http://www.goodlifeproject.com/) is constantly talking about reframing situations to move out of fear. Recently in one of his interviews they were talking about the questions this father asked his children at the dinner table, “What did you fail at today?” I think this is amazing! Eff the successes! What did you try really hard at today?

      • rys

        Yep. One of the best classes I took in college centered on failure — and the need to fail in order to succeed. It was life changing. I’ve seen a few different versions of this type of class (mostly taught in Math and Civil Engineering departments where there are real-life applications), and I wish it were more common. And before college, a high school teacher once told me to try an outlandish paper idea and if it failed, I’d find a new one….I think teachers and schooling can play a huge role in how we perceive failure.

        • http://brokensaucer.blogspot.com/ sera

          They should definitely add that to humanities majors.

          • rys

            Yes! I’m trying to figure out how to make that happen :)

        • http://www.smittenchickens.com/ Sarah Hoppes

          What a great idea for a class!

        • jashshea

          Late to the party on this one, but it’s like skiing or snowboarding (or probably lots of other sports) – you learn how to fall in your first lesson, so you don’t injure yourself right out of the gate. So strange that we (mostly) only apply that lesson in physical pursuits, never in learning how to gracefully fail in all aspects of life.

      • Sarah E

        This reminds me of the piece shared in Happy Hour a week ago about “Why Writers Procrastinate.” If you believe you have a fixed amount of talent, and you fail, it’s an indication that you don’t have what it takes to reach that level. If you have a growth mindset, then failure can indicate exactly where you need to grow.

        • http://brokensaucer.blogspot.com/ sera

          Yes, I’m the fixed mindset. But I think that fixed mindset can be a learned behavior. That article struck a chord with me, although it kind of diverged. I can’t remember where it was I read this, but there have been studies on children that when they do something well they are given one of two responses: “You must be gifted” or “You must have tried very hard”. The latter teaches the child that the end goal is the trying hard, leading them to value the process of learning regardless of their skill. While the former teaches the child that they are naturally gifted and should already know how – they never learn how to try. That’s me – totally gifted (at least so I was told when I was 5), and totally disappointing because I never learned how to try.

          • Sarah E

            Samesies. Labeled “gifted” very early, thus I never really learned to study, or to practice, or to fail, which limited my accomplishments. A while ago, I read about the “you’re so bright!” vs. “you worked so hard!” attitudes, particularly as a major difference between Eastern and Western education, as well as a major difference between how girls are encouraged and rewarded vs. boys.

            I’m totally with you that the fixed mindset is learned, and it’s SO HARD to un-learn it.

          • Meg Keene

            That’s interesting. I wonder what it has to do with different models of education. I tested into the gifted program in Kindergarden, but that just meant I was up against kids who were also really bright from day one, so I always had to work hard. I think if I had been in regular classes, it might have not worked as well for me. Always being really good would have made me lazy, fast.

          • Sarah E

            I don’t know if it’s because I was in small schools 1st-12th grade or what, but I rarely felt challenged academically. When I was challenged, it pissed me off not to get the easy A, and I hated having different expectations on me than the other kids had. Like “Thanks, teach, I was really looking for more ways to not fit in.” On the other hand, when I did get an easy A on work that I knew I half-assed, I was pissed, too, as though it was the teacher’s fault to enable my bad habits. Instead of seeking out challenge, I sought the boundary of how much laziness I could get away with.

            It’s left me with a really terrible relationship with the words “smart” and “gifted,” and I still need to make my peace with my education (both laziness in grade school and floundering in college). Issues, I haz them.

          • Meg Keene

            So you must not have been in a gifted program then? I was bussed down to one of the handful of schools with a gifted program, so everyone in my classes was equally smart (I knew the same kids all the way through school, even in a big district because of it). So I had the same expectations as everyone else in the class.

            Educators will tell you gifted programs are great for gifted kids, but terrible for everyone else (taking the brightest kids out of classes lowers the level those classes perform at). But not having gifted programs is the reverse, bad for the gifted kids, good for everyone else (that one super smart kid will drag the rest of the class up).

          • Sarah E

            I went to parochial school for 1st-12th. In elementary school, there was no gifted program. Until I reached sixth grade, I always just went to the next higher grade level for my language arts classes. I was able to start foreign language classes earlier, too. It was mostly throughout elementary school, where all my teachers knew I needed more that I had a different level of expectation than the rest of the class. In 7th and 8th, math was the only class with a higher difficulty option, which I took. For the rest of high school, I was always in Honors classes (our school tracked classes as B, A or Honors in level of difficulty) or AP classes. We didn’t have many AP classes available, compared to public schools in the area. I was just a big fish in a small pond. My best option probably would have been to start some college-level classes in high school.

            I had one or two competitors for top in the class throughout school, but it wasn’t intense competition (with maybe one exception). For me, I didn’t like being pulled away from my classmates and made to feel “other” all the time. I was dorky enough without that. It wasn’t until I got to college (at first, in a prestigious honors program) that I realized how woefully unprepared I was for high-level academics.

          • Meg Keene

            You know. It’s totally fair that you have issues and you should cut yourself a break if you’re not already. In short, UGH.

          • Emma Klues

            I am fascinated by the gifted phenomenon and the good and bad that comes with it. I tested in, but did not transfer to the gifted school, stayed in my regular public school but often went to gifted programs during other classes or after school. I actually credit much of my adult success with school being easy and me being ahead of most classmates for 2 reasons. I recognize it could have made some kids lazy and it might have made me somewhat so, but I actually think it helped me because, for one, I developed a fierce sense of competency and felt as though I had the capacity to do or learn anything, because I had always been able to conquer anything at school. I still feel as though I could pick up and learn anything; if I wanted to switch careers at any moment, I have that ability. And second, I’ve been naturally gravitating toward leadership roles since kindergarten. Any group project or extra opportunity or officer role or anything seemed totally attainable to me because I understood my capacity and I was always a natural choice. Had I been in a pack of kids all as smart or smarter than me, I am not sure my confidence or leadership skills would be so practiced. (Not that that would be the worst thing, just saying that being smart in public schools can provide value.) I also had a kickass mom who ran our Girl Scout troop as if it were a gifted program and I was challenged in many, many other ways.

          • Meg Keene

            Just to clarify, I was totally in public schools, in a huge district in a poor area, that just happened to nail gifted and talented programs all the way though. Also, by high school, there was no “regular.” There were worksheets and throwing desks at teachers, or International Baccalaureate, and the enormous stress that comes with it. Or vocational. That was it.

          • Emma Klues

            Throwing desks! I am a huge fan of gifted programs, I was just also fascinated by how I think some of my skills emerged from being in the mix. I think having experiences in both worlds if possible (which it sounds like we both had to some extent) is probably where it’s at in terms of academic, personal, and social development. This just always, always fascinates me, especially because the public/private school debate is so huge in St. Louis.

          • Violet

            Carol Dweck does a lot of research on how to talk to your kids so they don’t become afraid of making mistakes: http://nymag.com/news/features/27840/ I’m same as you- got praised for end result, not effort. Definitely ramifications decades later.

          • http://brokensaucer.blogspot.com/ sera

            Yep, that’s the one. Thank you for finding it!!! And how do you unlearn this???

          • rys

            I think one thing that helps is deliberately trying something new that you know is going to be hard or you’re not naturally talented at — a hobby, a sport, a skill, something that can be learned but is not going to be easy. Even just deciding to run a certain distance that you’ve never done before and may need to try more than once or do it slowly or accept partial success as success not failure.

          • Violet

            This makes sense to me.

          • Sarah E

            Very true. One of my proudest achievements was running my first 1/2 marathon. It’s one of the few times that I set a goal, then worked hard on it incrementally every single week, then ended up completing the distance in a lower time than I expected of myself. I’m a really slow runner, and I haven’t done much running since, but it was a big deal to me to really work for it.

          • Meg Keene

            Yeah, agreed. Actually, I know a LOT of dyslexic people who are particularly driven (myself included) and this might be one of the key factors. You had to go up against something you were terrible at to even get in the game (learning to read). It’s a terrible experience, but if you get over the hump, you’re going to have practice at both determination and failure. (Not to mention that most of us feel like we have something to prove…)

          • http://brokensaucer.blogspot.com/ sera

            That’s actually why I am trying to learn how to juggle. It’s something fun, useless, but skillful and doesn’t take a lot of time to practice everyday. Although my cat hates it.

          • Violet

            Oh man, THAT’S the question!!! If you figure out, let me know! I personally like the expression, “I’m a mistake-maker of the worst kind,” which means roughly, “I’m a human.” I’ll say that to myself sometimes.

    • http://cafeaubride.blogspot.com/ Catherine

      Wonderful, wonderful Buffy reference. :)

  • Lena and Aggy

    Please tell me you’ve watched the 30 by 30: Kerrigan/Harding documentary on Netflix. I was so young when that all was happening that I never realized how absolutely batshit crazy it was. And then to watch it now?! To watch Tonya just straight up give statements to the press on her own WITHOUT A LAWYER OR AN AGENT present at all times? So much has changed since then.

    • Meg Keene

      That’s the one I haven’t watched yet, but mean to! I actually remember it really really clearly, I was in 8th grade. But that makes it extra fascinating to me.

    • MC

      I just watched this yesterday! And I agree with you, everything was so batshit crazy. They tried to have Tonya’s car towed just so they could get her on camera?! But it was a great doc. I was fascinated by how much drive both Nancy and Tonya had, and the fact that Nancy went to the Olympics only six weeks after the attack blew my mind.

      • Lena and Aggy

        My mom was very pro-Nancy (we were east coasters, and my mom had a traditional “figure-skating-as-beauty” mindset), so I remember growing up and being totally anti-Tonya. But then I watched this documentary and was like “Man, if that was me at 21 years old, I can’t even imagine how pissed and angry I would have been at all these people trying to shame me.” Such an eye-opener.

        Also, this thread is totally not really at all related to the article that Meg wrote which is making me laugh. Can someone just write a 20th Anniversary Tonya/Nancy post? Maybe next month should be “Wedded to Scandal” We can include Lorena and John Bobbitt!

  • Class of 1980

    Now I’m trying to figure out if I have the rage. I don’t think I have it on a daily basis, unless I see rank unfairness or meanspiritness. Then, I can’t forget it.

    My best childhood rage story was on the last day of 5th grade. The teachers and students played a softball game together. I was always small for my age, so when I came up to bat, everyone on the field groaned and said “Everybody move in … everybody move in.” They were sure that any ball I hit was going no where.

    I was furious. People, I knocked that ball out of the park, and hit a home run with all the bases loaded. The open mouths were priceless and it was the best last day of school ever.

  • Amy March

    And sometimes drive gets you rewards that you shouldn’t have gotten. #teamqueenyunaforever

    • Meg Keene

      Don’t agree, though I loved her performance. Beautiful. Not as technically complex, but stunningly beautiful. Hers being beautiful and not being first place can co-exist in my mind.

      • Jess

        It totally can. This is where the athletic aspect of figure skating comes in – like in floor or balance beam in gymnastics. If it’s technically harder and not as dance-like, but performed well, it deserves to be rated higher than a beautiful move.

        -Love, an ex-ballerina who totally values beautiful fluid dance on its own too.

  • jashshea

    This should be an interesting month of reading for me. I’m a fundamentally lazy laurel-rester. I’m also good at my job and get rage-driven when people think that I can’t complete a particular project or task. I often wonder if I’d be less lazy if I felt at all drawn to the work I do at a intellectual or emotional level or if I’m really just not a go-getter.

    • http://brokensaucer.blogspot.com/ sera

      Yes, if you felt drawn to the work, I’m sure you’d be more passionate about it.

  • Jessica

    This is going to be an interesting month. I find myself wanting more, but I don’t know what direction I want more in. I want to go back to school, but I don’t have a reason to take on that debt. I want to push the organization I work for to do more, but I don’t have the allotted hours or skill to do that. I want to take on more responsibility, but sometimes struggle with what I already do (partly because I don’t have a traditional supervisor pushing/guiding me at all, so if I don’t see results I give up more easily than if someone were watching). I want to hear from others who are hungry but don’t know what they’re hungry for.

    • http://brokensaucer.blogspot.com/ sera

      me. I’m definitely still trying to find what to be hungry for. And, I can’t go into debt for more school right now, not that I’d know exactly what to go back for. I have plenty of friends that have a masters or two just because they couldn’t figure out which direction to go into and school is easy in a certain sense because you know what you’re working for and that there is an end goal. Work isn’t like that. There are too many places where work is just one task after another, some with endless hours, some in clock-watching 8 to 5 hours, but few not so many places with management there to help you be the best you you can be. I don’t think I’ve ever had a mentor to help push me or guide me and it really sucks.

  • http://cafeaubride.blogspot.com/ Catherine

    Hm. See I’ve always felt somewhere in the middle because I am very driven by my *passions*, but not by what other people doing or – well, I don’t have one competitive bone in my body. Never have. Swimteam as a kid? I won (a lot) but I never cared – I just jumped in and swam fast and never once felt competitive. Which is why I didn’t stick to it…there was no real passion there. My drive and ambition is fueled by my personal passion and compassion, not “winning”. So I am totally admitting this here, but I’ve actually always been a little scared of people that are competitive TO WIN. It makes me scared that they will do something mean – the little girl in me doesn’t want to be around those girls. An odd thing to say here since I’ve always wanted to be around Meg, ha, and I love everyone here- I guess my fear-self gets a little apprehensive when I hear people say how they just want to win, and they are sooo competitive, etc but no mention as to why or how their hearts in it. I’m a really heart driven person and nothing makes me more angry or sad when people’s ambition causes them to have a disregard to others. ALL THAT BEING SAID, I’m referring to specific people in my head, based on personal experience, and I’m totally not assuming any of those negative traits are relative to those here.

    • http://cafeaubride.blogspot.com/ Catherine

      I should add that I do totally resonate with the “Hungry” part of it though.

    • jashshea

      Really interesting perspective here. I was the same way as a child in physical activities – I was resoundingly okay at all the sports I played, but I wasn’t out there to make the Olympics. And while I admired (and was terrified of) the girls who WERE out there to prove something, I just sort of knew all along that, for me, it was about the effort and love of the game.

      I’m hungry, certainly, for a good novel or an interesting piece of journalism. Art. Good conversation. New experience. Food & drink. I do well at my job, am relatively high ranking and I take some pride in that. But professional fire? Meh. Pushing myself physically to do a marathon or be a crossfitter? Capital M meh.

      • http://cafeaubride.blogspot.com/ Catherine

        Amen to your second paragraph :) I guess I feel like I’m hungry for things that aren’t naturally competitive. Of course I’m hungry- and I’ve always been extremely driven and have followed my dreams since I was a kid…my dreams are just never about “winning”.

        • jashshea

          Here, here. Although don’t challenge me at playing video games on my phone. I’m hella competitive then. :)

      • Meg Keene

        We don’t have an essay on that yet, but someone should submit one sooooooooon, before the slots are all gone. I don’t think being driven or hungry has to do with profession for lots of people. That’s where I’m driven, but that’s just me. I’m not, say, driven at sports. Or having the cleanest house (sadly).

    • http://brokensaucer.blogspot.com/ sera

      Absolutely! I am totally afraid of people who are highly competitive. I actually have a couple of friends that do not get along because they are both very competitive people and are somehow always trying to one-up each other in conversations. With me, a non-competitive person, they both act like normal people. But then there are those that really are competitive in a “I will do anything it takes, including break your knee, to win” sort of people. I just don’t want to be around those people.

      • http://cafeaubride.blogspot.com/ Catherine

        exactly!! the whole “one-up” thing makes me cringe so bad!! I just like people being kind to each other and doing the right thing no matter what – and it’s a shame that those attributes are rarely associated with the type of ambition I’m talking about. Ambition is great, but fairness and kindness and compassion are a billion times more important. And since the Oscars were last night I’ll mention Ellen as a huge role model in that regard. She’s always been clearly ambitious and driven but never at the expense of others or doing the right thing. That’s the kind of ambition I aspire to, and for me, it’s more about personal self-belief and self-love than competition. I could care less what other people are doing, I believe there’s room for everyone. :)

    • Meg Keene

      Ah, that’s the thing. If you look back, I didn’t say anything personally about wanting to win. Drive and need to win are different things, I think. Drive is the need to compete, to best yourself constantly, to keep picking up and going. Sometimes you want to win, if that’s in your particular range at the given moment, but that’s usually pretty incidental. Needing to win is a whole other personality time, that’s driven by a whole other engine. That’s not one I can speak to, because it’s not my engine, so I don’t know how it works.

      • http://cafeaubride.blogspot.com/ Catherine

        Yes I totally agree, exactly! And while I have your attention, I just re-read your “anxiety and knocking it out of the park” post and am also so relieved when you write about your journey with anxiety and panic attacks. This past year I’ve been in the thick of my own storm and it’s so important to not feel alone and know that other people have them too…I’ve been getting help and working on healing myself but at the end of the day it’s nice to know you’re not alone. :)

  • CC

    I loved that performance and Mao Asada’s for exactly the same reason.

    • Meg Keene

      Oh, god. Her second performance, where she’d already lost the medal, but was in it to prove she could perform flawlessly for her last spin on Olympic ice? CHILLS.

  • Cleo

    Meg, I’m curious why you picked the word “rage” to describe that feeling of being unsatisfied and unsettled. I can identify with the emotion you describe, but it doesn’t feel like rage to me. To me, rage is an intense anger; it brings up a “screw all of them” mentality which, in my experience, is great for revving an engine, but I can’t imagine sustaining it through the hard work and endless drudgery it takes to get to the top.

    I’m not happy being a second banana — I want to be the best. I want to be on stage accepting an award, and I’m willing to do the work it takes to get there. I wake up every day and do that work, but for me, it’s driven by a calm persistence, not a well of rage.

    If I were writing this article, I would have chosen: conviction, drive, passion, dedication, determination, or ferocity (off the top of my head, I’m sure the list is endless). And of course, this is entirely subjective, I’m just curious to hear why rage was your choice.

    It’s so interesting to me how a widespread emotion can be experienced in so many different and disparate ways.

  • stella

    Yay! A Meg essay. And a good one as usual.

  • Fiona

    Today’s the 9th anniversary of my dad’s sudden death. I feel like a teenager again, missing him so much.
    Today, there is an outpouring of love and remembrance on facebook (one of the few times I really like facebook). Through them, I remember that there are people around the world loving him and remembering him alongside me).
    When I think about hunger, I think about hunger in very specific terms. My dad had drive–but his drive was to create an environment for our family that was totally loving and full of love. When he succeeded, it was always for the betterment of his family. When he died, we discovered how well he had planned for us (crazy life insurance policy, paying for all of our college education–in Mario’s case, by his first birthday, et cetera).
    Today, I am hungry to be the kind of person who can be so totally devoted to my family. My heart breaks that my dad can’t be here to see the fruits of his love for his family. I aspire to be the same kind of person.

    • Lauren from NH

      I completely feel for you. We are coming up on year six. My dad also loved us passionately and energetically. He loved us all so well that I find it hard to ever be sad when I think of him, because he was always happy and would do anything to see us happy. It just makes me thankful for his love and to have known what it is to bring that kind of positive tireless energy and caring to your life and the lives of your family.

    • http://www.smittenchickens.com/ Sarah Hoppes

      That can’t be easy, but this is a beautiful way to interpret a difficult loss.

  • http://brokensaucer.blogspot.com/ sera

    All right, maybe I am hungry for it. I just posted my reflection of my 28 days of selfies project, here: http://brokensaucer.blogspot.com/2014/03/selfie-no-29.html
    I guess this is one of my baby steps.

  • Melissa Mieow

    I was a super hungry (and emotionally stunted and unhappy) teenager and since high school I’ve been progressively shedding all those ambitions (mostly after I’ve started on them and realised that I hated the thing I was so determined to do). While that in itself has been liberating, I’m kind of left with no real motivation to do the things that my adult self has an ambition for – what if they all turn out to be as shitty at the things my teenager self wanted? This is compounded by the fact that my life (right now) is actually incredibly awesome and I’m really happy (I’m travelling around with my husband, both not working and playing all day and sleeping 11 glorious hours every night). It’s hard to work up motivation to do anything that would change that…but I now my future self will be grumpy if I don’t try my new ‘I want’ list.