Failure in School: to Lie or Not to Lie

Someone reached my site with the search: “Should I Lie about My Failure in School?”  Most likely Google found The Tortoise because of the posts on failure in Ph.D. School.  I assume this is not about high school failure.  Even if it is. lying will catch up to one — especially to one with a conscience which you obviously have.

I am not an ethicist or counselor, so all I can do is speak as an individual whose been through part  it.  First of all, failure in grad school is nothing to be ashamed of unless you spent too much time drinking and partying.  Even in that case, what is done is done.  If you gave your all to the effort, then no apology to anyone is necessary.  There are just too many other factors involved in failure:  level of experience and  self-understanding  at the time, the nature of the experience itself, quality of guidance you had and just the human ability to make bad choices — even self-delusion.

Grow with it. Grad school is an option and a choice.  To wash out of Naval flight school, as another example, doesn’t define a person’s ultimate worth, nor does failure to pass the bar exam.  To have sought what you believed was a star and not to have found it, is no sin and maybe not even a mistake.  You made a choice, took some chances and something happened — end of story.   In the end you were trying to get on, right?  You tried what many others would not even have attempted.

You may be worried about the resume and interview stuff.  Don’t ever use a fraudulent resume.  As for the interview, be honest here too.  You do not have to beat your breast confessing.  Chances are the interviewer won’t understand any field other than her own.  No, come to terms with yourself first and be honest. Explain the experience and what you learned from failure.  That takes guts. Who knows?  Maybe you still want that degree and can go back and try again.  Some employer might see an unfulfilled passion there just waiting on more experience and wisdom.  Maybe that employer will offer you the chance. Sometimes we try stuff before we are ready for full success. We pop the wine before its time.  If you’re seeking an alternative career in which the failed credentialing does not apply, it will not matter.

Finally, you are probably drowning in regrets about  what might have been and kicking yourself.  Don’t give yourself another bludgeon for self-punishment — like guilt over lying.

Steadfast and cautious,

David Milliken

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The Tortoise and the Writer, a Fable (Corrected and Revised1/4/12)

Just around noon a tortoise and a writer met along a creek bordering a meadow.  The tortoise had felt the writer’s presence from the vibrations of heavy foot steps.  The tortoise, hidden as well as possible near rocks and bushes, quickly pulled his tail and legs into his shell and his head, too;  except that he left just enough of a gap to spy on the intruder. He noticed when the writer caught sight of him, slowed his pace and quickly acted as though he hadn’t seen the tortoise. Then the human sat on a rock, pretending to ignore the tortoise.  He began unwrapping a sandwich and opened his water bottle.   Tortoise watched, waited and determined the vibrations to be friendly.  Slowly his head, limbs and tail emerged.

“What are you eating?” said the tortoise.

“Goose liver.”

“Good, one of my forebears had a bad experience with  flying geese, you know.”

“So I’ve heard,” said the writer. ” The geese dropped him mid-air.  Splat.”

“Not very sensitive on your part, but yes, he died.  But you got the story wrong.”

“No, I know the story.  The tortoise should have kept his mouth shut even though the humans jeered and mocked him. It wasn’t the geese’s fault. The tortoise couldn’t take the ridicule. Everyone knows that.”

“He was angry, just trying to save some pride.  We have as much right to pride as any human. ”

“Why bother? There’s nothing wrong with a little humility.  It just is.  Humbling passes and besides, humility can be the start of new experience if you apply a little effort. You have to do something with humility. Humility comes before meaning.”

“That sandwich smells good.”

“You’re an herbivore.”

“You’re misinformed. Who are you anyway?”

“I’m a writer, an absurdist.”

“What does that mean?”

” An absurdist doesn’t believe life has any inherent meaning.”


“I mean that life has no essential meaning.”

“I don’t understand you. I can’t ask such a question, let alone answer it,” responded the tortoise.  I just eat, poop, pee and procreate. I bask in sun and rain alike.  Oh, I hold on to life for dear life, but I know there’s an end.  I’ve seen tortoises die —  sad vibes when life is over,  like one day the light never comes.  In the meantime I enjoy a warm flat rock in the sun. I fight for as much of these things  as I can.”

“What do you do for meaning, Tortoise?”

“I can’t do for meaning, don’t you see.  I do for doing. I’ve tried to tell you that. I like pleasant scenes,  especially in the meadow, but that’s a risky trip to the meadow.  I go anyway.  I’m cautious in the meadow — and watchful. Good vibes give me pleasure.  Simple stuff satisfies me, but you’d have trouble sharing my vibes.  Vibes are tough to communicate to a human. We could rub each other’s neck, I suppose.”

“Maybe later.”

“I have good vibes right now — about you I mean.  Put your finger just below my head.”

“Well, okay.”  The writer put his fingers on Tortoise’s neck.  “Hmmm,  hmmmmmmmmmm!  Feels good.  I can’t get any meaning from it.”

“Isn’t feeling good enough,”  said Tortoise.  What’s this “meaning?” You got pleasure, didn’t you? I like to be stroked by a human. That’s the best I can do for you, but I don’t want to go home with you and be your pet. I like being a wild tortoise.  You’d know if I sensed you were bad, believe me.  I don’t get bad vibes from you.”


“Get off it. Bad vibes make me uncomfortable, wary, defensive.  Worse case, bad vibes would tell me if you were more interested in turning me into soup than enjoying my company.  I can be a companion, not like a dog, but I can be your friend.”

“Just pulling into your shell wouldn’t stop me from killing you.”

“Sure, you’re the dominant dude in these parts. . . Yikes! There’s more humans headed this way from up the path. I’m not getting good vibes at all.  Excuse me,  my friend,  while I sljp this mobile home into the brush here.  Keep those folks busy, okay?”  Whereupon the tortoise crawled back into  the brush. The writer rose and walked toward the strangers.

He noticed that the men  carried fish nets, clubs, fishing poles and tackle boxes. Their eyes scanned the water and creek bank.  One of them waved at him.  Quickly the writer emerged from the brush and faked fiddling with his fly and said,”Hi, men, caught me in the act of nature.  What are ya fishin’ for.”

“Catfish here in the stream and snappin’ turtles if we can find ’em.”

“Not a fisherman myself.”  He glanced carefully back at the bushes while he closed his zipper and noticed the dark, brownish rump of the tortoise mostly concealed in the bush and was amazed at how much like a rock he looked.  He walked closer to the fishers knowing they’d love to club a large tortoise.  Without being obvious he tried to obstruct their view of the tortoise posing as a rock behind him. After more pleasantries the fishers moved on.  The writer walked the opposite direction up the path, long enough for the men to disappear; and then he  returned to the tortoise.  He was still tucked inside his shell. He spoke to the tortoise, but heard no reply, nor did he come out of his shell.

For some time, perhaps an hour, the writer waited, speaking occasionally to the inert lump before him. He sat on the tortoise and felt the same vibrations as when he’d stroked his neck, only more intensely.  He thought long and deep about this accidental  event in his life.

The writer struggled in his head for the meaning of what had happened.  The vibrations from Tortoise, like a purring cat told him he was quite content. In the end the writer decided that the only meaning he could bring to this happening was the pleasure of fooling  men with  nets and clubs.  Acting to help a threatened, humble creature can be a good adventure.

David Milliken



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Goodness, Lord, what more perfect word could there be to contemplate on Good Friday!  Call it persistence on a course through time, such as a mission or an ordeal — steadfast and undaunting  and not without doubt for even Jesus cried, “Father, why hast thou forsaken me.”  The idea of enduring despite setbacks and pitfalls has to be an essential part of the meaning of perseverance. One must be tested in some way against high standards or great threatening evils.

Theologically speaking, particularly in the Calvinist way, perseverance is the peculiar virtue of the Elect of God, those chosen few who persevere until they are lifted up into Glory.  Well, the Tortoise will not presume to be in such a class or state of Grace, although animals probably have a legitimate claim to the condition — more so than a lot of humans; ah, but that is to judge.  A tortoise should never judge a creature “higher up” on the Great Chain of Being.

Split the word into per– as in “through” and  “severance” and you get the notion of severing one’s self away from something to be arduously avoided, perhaps a Puritan’s mark of scorn — the Scarlet Letter being an extreme. Perhaps the persevering person severs himself from baser behaviors, i.e. sin.  It seems to mean that passage through a mission or ordeal remains essential to the meaning of the word.  Fanatical self-righteousness need not be the  goal of perseverance.

In Ephesians 6:18 , the only reference I find in my Concordance, Paul says, “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit; and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints.”  This comes after Paul has spoken of bearing God’s armor, and “loins girt about with truth” and the “breastplate of righteousness.”  So perseverance is the behavior of convicted veterans or persons pretty well along their way in a faith quest.  Through perseverance one “quenches the fiery darts of the wicked.”  Whether one must have this trait in full or whether he can always be striving for it is not clear to me.  If it’s the former, I’m out of luck. I know for certain that I am not one of the Elect.  I’ll have to stick with “praying always with all prayer” in the hope I’ll come out a better person in my striving. This tortoise  hopes a lot.

Of one thing I am certain, the Man of Good Friday and the Christ of Easter passed the test immaculately and set an example far beyond my poor powers.

Happy Easter!

The Tortoise

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