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I have friends, both from the past and currently, that are insecure about pursuing further education. They say stuff like, “I’m dumb as a rock!” or “I can’t write!” or “I failed English and math in school and barely graduated high school! How could I go to college?” There are those that look at my educational achievements and think, “I could NEVER do that! I’m not that smart!” Honestly, I really don’t think I’m “that smart” either. I know my intellectual capabilities and I know my background, and I believe my achievements are based more on persistence and sweat more so than grand intellectual abilities. Here are my educational achievements so far:
- 1 Bachelor’s degree from the University of Alabama (Majored in Religious Studies and Minored in Spanish)
- 1 Master of Divinity degree from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary
- 1 Master of Arts in Apologetics degree from Birmingham Theological Seminary which required a master’s thesis that was around 60 total pages long (my thesis was 95 total pages while only finishing only 1/3 of the original projected outline!)
- I am considering beginning a Ph.D. program soon, Lord willing (and finances willing!!)
Others look at the fact that I thrive speaking publicly and think that I’ve “always” had this gift and have “always” been an outgoing person since I can be “quite lively” around others. What I want to show you is that most of these traits have not been in my life and that failure has characterized much of my educational journey, as well as my social development. What I want to do is to show you that I haven’t always had everything figured out, I haven’t always “thrived” in school, and that most of my educational successes in life are built upon a mountain of failures. Be encouraged, therefore, by my NINE failures listed below!
MY FAILURE TO GIVE AN ORAL REPORT IN MIDDLE SCHOOL
First, let’s look at my 7th grade oral report that I had to give in Mrs. Crotty’s class in middle school. I refused to do this oral report because I was scared to death to speak in public. My mother even contacted the teacher herself to tell her how shy I was and to see if there was another way I could make up this oral report besides speaking in public. Mrs. Crotty refused my mother’s invitation to do another assignment, I eventually did not give the oral report, and received a big ZERO for neglecting to give the report. For most of my middle school and high school life, I was very quiet and said almost nothing to anybody. One girl, my senior year, wrote in my annual that she wished that I would have spoken more to more people so that others could have gotten to know me better. For many that know me today, this would be a complete shock, but this is true and it is a part of my story. So, I failed to speak publicly to my classmates and failed the report.
MY FAILURE TO MAKE GOOD GRADES IN SCHOOL GENERALLY
Second, let’s look at my grades in school, generally speaking. For most of my primary and secondary educational life (elementary, middle, and high school), I was a very average to a below-average student. Most of my grades up until my 11th grade year in high school were Cs and Ds with some Bs, except for some As in spelling. I could always spell well, but couldn’t do much of anything else in a superb way in school. So, many may assume that I was a “high achiever” in school, but this is Far from the truth.
MY FAILURE TO TAKE ADVANCED MATH OR SCIENCE IN HIGH SCHOOL
Third, let’s look at my failure, and basic neglect, to take advanced math or science in high school. Many will be shocked to know that the highest math I took in high school was Algebra 1. I knew nothing of geometry, trigonometry, calculus or statistics. The highest science I took in high school was biology. I knew nothing of chemistry or physics. After 10th grade, I have no other higher math or science classes on my high school transcript.
MY FAILURE TO TAKE ANY HONORS OR AP CLASSES IN HIGH SCHOOL
Fourth, I did not take any honors or AP classes in school. Many take these as a “necessity” to get into college. I would have flunked these classes miserably given my poor educational foundation. I do not blame this poor educational foundation on my teachers, but rather on myself for not having any motivation in school nor having any drive to do much of anything with my life at that point.
MY FAILURE TO BE ACCEPTED AT THE UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA THE FIRST TIME
Fifth, when I graduated high school, I did apply for the University of Alabama, but my ACT score was so low that they thought I wouldn’t be able to make it in their classes. Specifically, I was told that I would not be able to make it in their English classes due to such low scores. So, I applied to Shelton State Community College instead and was accepted, although conditionally!
MY FAILURE TO TEST WELL IN MATH AT SHELTON STATE LED TO REMEDIAL MATH
Sixth, I was unable to even qualify to take the first accredited basic math course at Shelton State Community College. In fact, when I first took the test, I didn’t even qualify for the first remedial math class below the first accredited math course, but I tested for the second remedial math class BELOW the first remedial math class. I don’t recall the exact numbers, but Math 101 would have been the accredited math class I needed for college credit. Math 98 would have been the highest remedial math class and then Math 93 would have been the lowest (?) remedial math class. I tested for Math 93! Well, thankfully, after only about 2 classes in Math 93, I realized that I was a better fit for Math 98, which they let me take. Regardless, I was taking remedial math as my first math class in college.
MY FAILURE TO DO WELL INITIALLY AT THE UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA
Seventh, after I completed 2 years at Shelton State, I then applied for UA, and based on the good grades I had at SSCC, I was finally accepted. This did not happen without difficulty academically for me. First, I was having difficulty in my introductory to psychology course. The tests were difficult to me and I believe I wound up with a C in the course. Second, one of my papers in one of my classes at UA was so bad that the professor wrote on the top of the page, “This paper needs to go to the English department NOW for help!” None of this is the picture of the academically oriented guy that many see me as today and it’s certainly not very encouraging! You may have thought that I would have given up by now…but I didn’t!
MY FAILURE TO MAJOR IN SPANISH DUE TO BEING INTIMIDATED BY SOME OF THE COURSES
Eighth, I was terribly intimidated in some of my classes when searching for a major. My original major was Spanish, based on my mother’s recommendation, since I did do ok in high school in those classes. I took a few Spanish classes and got up to the 300s in class level of conversational Spanish (this is where the entire class is in Spanish and there’s no English spoken at all!), but then began to notice that I could not hear the other classmates speaking in Spanish because they were speaking TOO FAST! I began to get very concerned about this subject that I was supposed to be majoring in! I thought, “How could I continue to major in Spanish if I cannot HEAR the language when it is spoken??” So, I decided to pursue other options for my major.
MY FAILURE TO MAJOR IN MUSIC DUE TO DROPPING THE BASIC MUSIC THEORY CLASS
Ninth, I had this wild idea of wanting to major in music. I sang a lot in church and really enjoyed music so I thought I would try this out. When I went to “interview” with one of the lead professors in the music department at UA and was even set up to sing for him, he noticed, almost immediately that I had no knowledge of music. I had taken no music in high school and I was never in the band. I could not read a note of music and thought that A, B, and C were letters of the alphabet more so than musical notes. He told me, “Son, do you realize that most of these students that are majoring in music have taken music courses for at least the past 6 years or more?” When I mentioned to him that I’d sung in the church choir and sung solos from time to time at churches, he gave back my accompaniment track to me (which I was supposed to sing to him) and dismissed me saying, “I’ll see you around.” So I did sign up for the basic Music Theory class and I can tell you that I understood nothing the professor said that first day. When I got home to do some of the work, I realized after the introduction on the first page of the first book of three in the class, that I was in WAY over my head! I actually began to have a mental breakdown because I realized that I COULD NOT do the work in this class! I was LOST after page 1! I told my mother my angst and she comforted me and encouraged me to drop the class, which I did. I thought to myself, “I don’t quit anything!” but I knew the course was too much for me, so I dropped the course.
MY TURNAROUND PART 1
So how did I go from having all these failures to achieving 1 undergraduate degree, 2 master degrees, and now the current consideration of possibly pursuing a Ph.D.? First, when Jesus Christ came into my life around the 10th grade, everything changed. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “If any man be in Christ, He is a new creation. Old things have passed away, all things have become new.” Before Christ, I missed as many days of school as I could (9!) and usually slept in most of my classes. I said very little to anyone for most of my middle and high school life. I was very shy and, actually, very angry with life and depressed. I had ZERO motivation for anything related to school. I was also severely bullied, and this didn’t help matters. However, after Christ saved me around my 10th-grade year, everything began to turn around for me. I suddenly had a new motivation for living, and this affected every area of my life, including my school performance. During my last two years of high school, I had nearly perfect attendance, except for a few days of being sick. I also made nearly straight As except for a B or two in some classes. I suddenly began to talk (and preach!) to people more and began to sit up in class and pay attention more. Everyone began to notice this dramatic change, and it was reflected in my increased motivation to do well in school. While I did not take any higher math or science, I did take 2 years of Spanish and 2 years of French my last few years of school while taking both Spanish 2 and French 1 in the same semester. This is all due to Jesus coming into my life. I know that not everyone’s testimony is the same, but this is my story and this is what happened to me. This was one part of my turnaround academically and in my life generally.
MY TURNAROUND 2
I certainly did struggle to find a major, but around the age of 20 or 21, right in the middle of leaving Spanish as my major and failing to even take a step towards music as a major, I began to hear the call of God on my life for ministry work. This “call” was evident to others around me and it was evident in my own desires as well since I had a great zeal for the Lord and a desire to do His work (and still do!). As I began to look for other majors, I saw that there was a “Religious Studies” department at UA, so I thought that would be a perfect fit for someone going into ministry! Well, you can see how some of those classes turned out here. Needless to say, my faith was challenged, but this was a good fit for me. I found subject-matters that were interesting to me and I was able to thrive. The key here is finding subjects that are interesting to you and that you are passionate about, this will really help to thrive in school (or really most other areas in your life!).
MY ENCOURAGEMENT TO YOU
Here’s my encouragement to you for anything that you have the passion or desire to do in life (within moral and legal bounds, of course!): Don’t let any sheet of paper or individual or attitude that says, “Low Grade!” or “F!” or “Not Accepted!” or “Rejected” or “You’re Not Smart Enough!” or “You Won’t Make It!” or “You’re Too Shy!” or “You Need to be Remediated!” or “This Will Be Too Hard For You!” or “Your Past Failures Have Set You Up for Future Failure!” keep you from fulfilling the goals that you believe God has for you. You may say, “It’s too late for me!” but as author Barbara Sher reminds us, “It’s only too late if you don’t start now!” (from Dan Miller’s book, “No More Dreaded Mondays”). Let your discontent fuel you to your next step: “Restlessness is discontent and discontent is the first necessity of progress. Show me a thoroughly satisfied man and I will show you a failure” (Thomas Edison quoted in Miller’s book mentioned above). You don’t have to see the entire staircase, just take the first step you can see. Let’s get moving! Or, as Kevin DeYoung says in his excellent book on the will of God, “Just Do Something!”
YOUR TURN! (I’d LOVE to hear your comments in the “Leave a Reply” section below!)
- What failures has God used in your life to propel you to success in other areas of your life?