As the first year of relocation from Houston to Karachi drew to an end, I wondered what I could write to mark that milestone.
As I had several times in the past, whenever I was faced with a writing conundrum, I asked the muse.
“Write about failure, and put it in a relevant context,” the muse responded without hesitation. “Who has failed frequently enough and could be the protagonist of this story?” I asked her.
And then I realised the person whom I needed to write about was closer than I'd envisioned. Me.
I am a story of failure.
I have failed a lot. In fact, I have failed so often that I will fail again just trying to quantify my failures.
But I am not going to fail to try. Below, somewhat chronologically, I relate my choicest failure stories:
- One of my earliest, and repeated, situations includes my inability to get admission in an elite, legacy-based school in Karachi that my older siblings and cousins had attended.
- I failed the entrance test for another private school, although I might have done something to impress them during the interview since they ultimately admitted me.
- In high school in Karachi, I failed to get ‘that someone’ to go with me to senior prom.
- In the final year of medical school in Karachi, I failed to get a visa for clinical electives in Houston.
- Although I did not fail my USMLEs, my scores were embarrassingly low compared to my peers.
- After completing my residency in Houston, I failed my initial attempt at board certification.
- I was unable to acquire significant grant support for my biomedical research.
- I have repeatedly failed to recall my wedding anniversary, much to my wife’s chagrin, and my kids’ birthdays, much to their frustration.
- My articles, stories, and book drafts have repeatedly been rejected by several newspapers, authors (as reviewers) and publishers in Houston and Karachi.
All of the above frequent failures might make you rightfully conclude that I am an epitome case study in failure.
Yet, I am professionally employed at one of the best medical institutions in Karachi, while previously I was faculty at a very competitive medical school in Houston. I should also mention that my repeat attempt at securing a visa to the US was successful.
Irrespective of a low success rate in terms of grant support, I continue to pursue my biomedical research interests. In spite of being a resounding failure, more medical students and graduates come to me seeking career advice – even after being told that I have failed time and again.
Despite the growing stack of rejected manuscripts and writings, I continue to write and publish in biomedical journals, or otherwise.
So, where is the disconnect? I think the discrepancy arises because of the fast-paced, fast food, Twitter and Facebook heavy social media world of ours. We are constantly regaled by presumably instantaneous, overnight success stories with their inherent short-term gratifications. This might misdirect us into thinking of success as not being a journey rather simply a means to an end. It happens to such an extent that we are bound to conclude that to succeed is the only purpose to live life.
I think success is over-rated. Over glorification of success is particularly detrimental to our children, especially given today’s volatile and unpredictable world where little is black and white. I have nothing personal against success and those who succeed although the blinkered approach assumes that people reading those stories understand and recognise real success.
But what fails to get transmitted more often than not is that both success and the protagonists of success stories have been through a process. That process, for many the long haul, glosses over the failures. Yet, those failures are what the journey is really about.
What we are unable to gauge for ourselves and our kids is that we can learn a tremendous amount from our failures, perhaps much more than from our successes. The objective to try harder, better becomes more apparent with each successive failure.
Among my recent most significant and high risk ventures was moving back to Karachi after 15 years in Houston. This had a low likelihood of success per the naysayers in both cities. Hence, I was not surprised when the muse asked me to write about failure to mark the first anniversary of my relocation.
She could have asked me to write about success, and going by what does the rounds, that is, success stories per social media. However, going by my history there’s almost always a successful journey to the said presumptive failure.
Per that thought process, if I leave it up to you, my dear reader, you might logically conclude that my relocation was a failure. And that would be fine by me because success, after all, is failure redefined.