You only fail if you learn nothing

By Karyn Spory, Mt. Pleasant News



For such a small word it sure does have some mighty implications.

When I was younger, I wasn?t so much petrified of failing as I was of disappointing others. My parents, my grandparents and maybe even myself. I learned early on that if you don?t try, you don?t fail. You also don?t succeed. Or learn much of anything.

But that?s what I did. I was very cognizant of what I was good at and what I was capable of without putting out too much effort. So I swam just below the surface. Put out just enough effort to receive slightly better than passing grades. I stayed within the status quo that I had set for myself.

Eventually, it wasn?t enough. I wasn?t failing, but I wasn?t doing much living either. The turning point for me was having a teacher that saw I was capable of more, so he pushed me.

?Karyn,? he said to me from his worn-down leather chair after he had asked me to hang back after the bell, ?you know you?d be a half-way decent writer if you learned how to use a dictionary??

And so, from then on, I carried a pocket dictionary with me. I took chances with my writing, and for the most part, I was rewarded. And when my writing wasn?t the best ? my best ? I was told so. I was held up to a standard, not that of my peers, but what my teacher saw my potential to be. I wasn?t competing against anyone but myself. And instead of a bad grade and silent shake of his head when he returned my essays, my papers were filled with miles and miles of notes. This is where I needed to work on my commas, or grammar. This section could use more detail or a better explanation. And this part was almost perfect.

My confidence began to grow and soon I was taking chances in my other classes. Putting more effort into my geometry class, asking questions about Lewis structures in chemistry, raising my hand in all of my classes. I was not only a better student, but I was an enthusiastic student. Something I think my parents never thought they would see.

I carried those lessons with me throughout my high school career and into college. I started writing for my college paper. When internship time rolled around, I didn?t just apply locally, I applied for internships at The Washington Post and New York Times, because why not try?

I ended up interning at the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. I enjoyed my summer on the features desk and reveled in the days they switched me to the news department.

As my senior year rolled to a close, I was applying to just about every newspaper under the sun with an opening. After a few interviews, I took a job in Wisconsin.

After a year there, I thought I had learned everything I could. So I went on to bigger and better things. I took a job as the higher education reporter at the Columbia Tribune. I was covering The University of Missouri-Columbia (Mizzou), the University of Missouri System (the legislative branch of Missouri?s four state colleges in Columbia, St. Louis, Rolla and Kansas City) as well as a slew of local colleges and universities.

It didn?t take long for me to figure out I wasn?t ready. I went from a circulation of 8,000 to 25,000 (on the Sunday edition at least) and a beat that was specific and enormous at the same time. I was barely treading water. I had reverted back to old habits. I was doing enough to get by, too scared to ask for help or plunge in headfirst into an assignment unafraid to fail.

My bosses knew it too.

One bright February afternoon, my managing editor, Jim Robertson, called me into the conference room. Sitting across from one another at the large walnut table that seated a dozen, Jim told me he could tell I wasn?t happy. He could see it in my work.

I had never been fired before. I was in shock. I silently cleaned off my desk and quietly slipped into Jim?s office to thank him for the opportunity.

?This is going to be a big change for you. You?re going to have to work really hard, but if you can do that, I think we?ll have a place for you in our newsroom,? Jim had said to me during my interview.

I hadn?t been able to do that. I had failed. I was a failure.

For two years ? which I know sounds like a short while, but for a 20-something it?s the beginning of a lifetime ? I had defined myself by my career. I was a journalist. And then I wasn?t. I didn?t know who I was. Once again, in my brief time on Earth, I was without definition (I had felt similarly lost after my heart surgery).

For a week, I puttered around my apartment in the same pair of ice cream stained sweats. Asking myself ?what now?? Obviously my writing career was over. I couldn?t even look at one of my reporter?s notebooks without feeling sick to my stomach. Becoming a writer was the one thing I was good at, I had thought. It?s what I had spent the past five years working towards.

Columbia had chewed me up and spit me out. I felt like I couldn?t show my face in my beloved city anymore.

Once I decided to stop moping and become a functioning human being again, I starting looking for work in Iowa. And I found it. A few weeks later I relocated to Iowa City and started working as an insurance agent at Geico.

Soon there was a dull ache in my chest. Not because of my heart condition, but because I missed being creative.

?I feel like my creative limb has been severed,? I told my friend during a tearful drive down I-80.

I ended up leaving Geico and moved back in with my parents. For three months, I split my time between substitute teaching and bartending. And then, my dad left a note for me on my nightstand. The Mt. Pleasant News had an opening for a reporter. A friend had seen the ad online and emailed it to me as well. At the same time, a headhunter had tracked me down for a sales job back in Iowa City. I interviewed for both, but there was only one that made me feel like I could make good on an old mistake.

So I came here, to Mt. Pleasant. I found my passion again. I found my drive. Right now, I?m writing this in my new office. I?ve been here since 6 a.m. and I?m not looking to leave until well after 8 tonight. But that?s ok. I?m hungry for this. In the last three years, I?ve done my fair share of looking back; ruminating on the direction my life has gone.

No, I wasn?t ready when I moved to Columbia. I didn?t have the grit I needed to thrive there. Do I have that grit now? I?m still not entirely sure. But I know I have a lot of experience and know-how and I am thankful every day that I get to continue to challenge myself here. So thank you, Mt. Pleasant and Henry County for allowing me to learn and grow. I?m beyond thrilled to have found, once again, what I love and to be able to do it here.