Fall Down 7 Times, Get Up 8
Some things aren’t easy to write — or say.
There’s an “alternative site” in Ottawa that only accepts high school students who’ve been expelled from other schools, or expelled by another school board. Or are there on a day pass or pursuant to Court supervision. Some have records that are other than academic — “at risk” youth is the common parlance. Many are only able to take one course at a time, because of what’s happening in the rest of their lives, including the fact that many work fulltime to support themselves. But they’re all good kids, every one an individual, every one capable of getting a high school diploma, or more, which is why they’re there. A fair number go on to college and some to University.
A high school teacher on our Ottawa Law Day Committee, John Franklyne, “wanted to do more”, so he resigned his regular teaching job and went to teach at this special place. Last year he asked me to come and talk to the students. He, and they, thought I’d talk about ‘getting on with life, getting a high school diploma, getting your act together, getting a job’ etc. Instead I talked about failure — mine.
Here’s what I said last year almost to the day:
EUGENE MEEHAN Q.C.
BARRISTER AND SOLICITOR
“FALLING DOWN 7, GETTING UP 8”.
Norman Johnston Alternative Site
2401 Cleroux Cres.
AND HIS STUDENTS
I’d like to start with a confession,
Something I’m not comfortable saying.
Haven’t told my children. Not yet.
Which is this: almost failed university, first year Law.
Though I knew, and could see, my parents loved me,
they never told me I was
I’m Scottish — grew up, no. 2 in a family of 5 boys.
And my older brother Gerald, 3 years older than me, was way smarter than me.
And my parents sometimes told me so.
I spent my childhood at least partially in the shadow of Gerald’s intelligence.
And even at primary school (because there are exams in Scotland, even in grade school),
I decided to take a year off after high school — decide whether I wanted to go to University or not.
Worked in a whisky distillery (put me off alcohol — kinda like working in a pizza factory puts you off pizza).
Drove a double decker bus.
Completed my education and expanded my vocabulary — primarily 4-letter words beginning with F — all at the same time.
What the heck, why not apply to law school.
First time I’d been to Edinburgh (30 miles away — the capital) was the entrance interview. I cycled there, left at 4 am.
When I was accepted to law school at the University of Edinburgh I saw:
As for me, I thought:
But I worked as hard as I could.
Did everything the professors and seminar tutors told me to.
If they said this law case looks interesting, kinda different, I’d memorize it.
Worked to midnight and later every night.
The following July, after final exams, I cycled back up to Edinburgh to get my results: walked down the corridor with all the names handwritten on long sheets after each subject, top to bottom, with a red line immediately above mark 49: I almost failed every subject.
Confirmed for me what I already knew:
The report card basically said to me: “you are one dumb sh--, come back here next year if you dare”.
That’s how I spent that summer, thinking about what a dumb sh-- I was.
Talk to my older brother ˆ the smart guy - about it? Yeah, right.
And as tough as it was,
because I knew everyone would compare their own percentages in every
course on the first day back. People could, and would, factually correctly say:
“I’m dumb, but not as dumb as you”
But I came back.
There’s a Japanese proverb, I unfortunately only recently learned: “Fall 7 times, get up 8.”
But I did it differently this time:
And you know what, at the end of 2nd year:
Went from thinking I was not smart enough to go to university:
Because you know what, it took me till my mid-twenties — a quarter of a century (you’re right, I’m a slow learner, I’m the original A.D.D. guy) to realize:
I’m a good person
I’m a good father
I’m a good husband to my second spouse and our blended family
Who I love more than anything.
I’m a good friend to the friends I do have
I’m a damn good lawyer
Proud of what I do
Proud that I am a lawyer
Proud I made the choice to be one.
You’ve made the choice to be here, to come to school.
I know that it’s often tough to come,
Not perfect, but perfectly here, here and now.
Fall 7 times, get up 8:
You got up — otherwise you wouldn’t be here
I do legal work for some aboriginal groups, and have an aboriginal friend who likens his inner struggles to 2 dogs:
I ask him which dog wins, he thinks about it and says: “the one I feed the most”.
2. SO YOU FAILED SOMETHING
So you may have failed at something in the past.
Maybe failed a course here, with a teacher that’s here today.
That was in the past - really, who gives a you-know-what:
It’s like driving your car: you gotta concentrate on looking out through the front wind screen:
Looking back all the time at what happened — riding the brake and not putting your foot on the accelerator — gets you literally, nowhere.
Sure you have to look at the rearview mirror now and then, see where you’ve come from, but not focus on that all the time: look where you’re going, not where you’ve come from.
If you burnt the toast, take the stupid toast out, stick in some new bread for heaven’s sake.
You know, it’s not about what happens, it’s about what you do with what happens: no matter where I’m at — no matter where you’re at — things can always be different.
You can get up, you can stay down, it’s not about what’s happened, it’s about what you
do about what happened that counts.
3. TWO TECHNIQUES
Let me share with you my two wee strategies about how I deal with stuff that happens, or whether I decide I’m going to do something or not do something.
No.1. I measure in advance what percentage I want out of something:
No. 2. I decide in advance what percentage I need out of something to be able to make a decision on whatever that thing is.
Going from pigeons to eagles,
people who study eagles say that:
5. ARIZONA FIRE CHIEF
There are storms, and there are eagles in the desert in Arizona — I was in Arizona last week. An hour north of Phoenix in the desert foothills, no taxis, no movie theatre, but the local newspaper still gets delivered and I like to read what’s going on locally. Here’s what was in the paper one morning.
A young mother walks out of a hospital from a meeting with a cancer specialist. Her seven-year old son has three months left to live.
The boy’s at home. You can imagine how she feels inside.
She asks the doctor, “Should I tell him?”
“Don’t know, your call”, says the Doctor.
She speaks to her boy:
“Son we have to take you to the hospital. We can’t take care of you properly at home. We won’t be together you and I forever, as I wanted. We will have three special months together you and I, and I’ll sleep on the floor beside you every night.
But I have one question for you, and that is: “Did you have a dream, something you
wanted to do, or wanted to be, when you grew up? Something you wanted to achieve?
Her seven year old boy said, “Yeah”.
- “A firefighter, I want to be a firefighter”.
- “A firefighter, huh”, she replies.
She calls the Phoenix Fire Department and says her son isn’t well and asks if she and her son could have a ride on a fire truck.
Receptionist puts her through to the Fire Chief. Fire Chief asks questions and gets the full story.
“Ma’am”, he says, “This is the Phoenix Fire Department. We’ll do better than that. You give me your boy’s measurements. We get our uniforms, protective gear and helmets made right here in Phoenix and I’ll get him a full outfit. Not toy stuff, a real fire fighting outfit. 6:30 a.m. Wednesday, we’ll pick’m up.”
Wednesday, 6:30 a.m. Fire truck. Fire chief. Fire fighting outfit.
Three emergency fire calls that day.
Her son went on all three and held the Chief’s hand, gave advice.
Kept the outfit.
Three months later, vital signs dropping below critical.
Mother calls Chief on his direct line.
- “He’s fading, but still fully conscious. He probably won’t make it through the night. The hospital believes in the hospice movement, that no one should die alone, and not without memories. Could someone come over and say hi?”.
- ”Ma’am, this is the Phoenix Fire Department. We’ll do better, I can tell on my computer screen you’re at the hospital on the third floor. What room number? Be there in six and a half minutes or less. Have him look out the window.”
At four minutes you can hear the sirens.
At six minutes, two sets of ladders go up to the third floor.
Fourteen fully dressed and equipped firemen — and with fourteen fire women — and the Chief — crawl up the ladders and through the window.
They hug him and love him, and talk to him, and josh with him.
He says to the Chief: “Does this mean I’m a real firefighter now?”
Chief says, “Boy, you always were because it was your dream, in your heart and you lived it out”.
He died that night.
The reason I tell you this story, this real story, is because inside everyone of us is that child.
Inside every one of us is that Fire Chief too.
That little boy. As tough as it was.
For his mother.
Did live — and die — with his dream.
The Fire Chief too lived his dream.
A true professional.
Like you, like me.
Inside all of us, is that dream. A real dream.
A dream of what we can do.
What we can give.
Who we can become.
6. CONCLUSION: ARIZONA BAR DREAM
I wanna end with my own story, a dream I had, recently had.
I’m a lawyer in Canada. It would help me a lot in my work to be qualified as an American lawyer too.
Two years ago I decided to start that process, and applied to write the Arizona Bar Exams. Sent away for the material: stacks of books, cassettes, CD’s, practice exams. Studied two years part-time, studied full-time during holidays, including family holidays, full time during long weekends and days off, studied evenings and nights too if I couldn’t sleep. Put in somewhere between 2–3000 hours.
I knew it’d be tough. Knew I’d have to study hard — don’t have a U.S. law degree, don’t practise U. S. law. Do practise Canadian law obviously, so I figured if I know French, it’s easier to learn Spanish, right?
Was told if I studied all the books I got sent, listened to all the tapes and CD’s, went through all the checklists, made sure I did everything possible, and went down there for 2 weeks to cram before the exams — I’d pass. Pass mark is 66%, and that’s about roughly how many people pass it — 1/3rd fail overall.
I figured it was a 70/30 decision for me. But I implemented 100% — I studied my rear-end off.
My family obviously, my colleagues at work, friends, all knew I was studying for it. Colleagues in the profession as well, and they all knew exactly when the exam was and knew when the results would be in as well. Took the exam this July. Two days. Two hundred very tough multiple choice. 12 essays. Knew I wouldn’t get 100%, but felt O.K.
Got the results last month.
I’ll read you the beginning of the Letter [ READ LETTER ]:
“October 3, 2003
Committee on Examinations, Arizona
We regret to advise that you failed to achieve a passing score on the July 2003 Arizona bar examination. In order to be successful, you were required to achieve a combined score of at least 410. Your score was 393.
The minimum passing score is 410 points.
Daniel P. Quigley
Chairman, Committee on Examinations.”
I cannot begin to tell you how I feel about that. Bummed out — too superficial. I had to tell all kinds of people I failed. Some even asked me before I could volunteer it. Some secretly enjoyed it I think. Brought me back to feeling like a failure, like a mistake, like an imposter.
Aiming too high, punching above my weight, being brought down to size. Others said: “don’t worry, you’ll pass next time”. A female friend of mine lost a baby in a miscarriage a few years ago. People told her: “don’t worry, you’ll have another”. Inside she told every single one of them to ‘F’ off — nobody understood the loss, nobody understood — for her, and for that baby, it was real.
The nice people that said nice things to me, inside, I told them all to ‘F’ off too.
Is it tough to fail?
You bet: people want winners, not losers. Yeah, rah, rah. ‘F’ off.
Let me end by saying this:
So for me:
Inside every one of us, me, you, is that Arizona Fire Chief.
You can go up the ladder, you can stay at the bottom and wet your pants.
You can be the pigeon, you can be the eagle.
You can be who you are, who you want to be.
It’s inside of me — I’m going to retake that exam next July.
It’s inside of you too — to be what you want to be, because you want to be that.
Today, tomorrow. Next year, next 5 years.
Be the eagle, take the hit, take the storm, rise above it: be the eagle.
ADDENDUM: November 4, 2004
Retook the exam. Got the results a month ago. Passed. Get called tomorrow, Dec. 2.