Everyday Inspiration from Sonsyrea
  • Everyday Inspiration from Sonsyrea
  • Everyday Inspiration from Sonsyrea
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    Soul Rythem

    Everyday Inspiration from Sonsyrea

    I was enjoying a power-walk one morning last week when I got a boost from an unexpected source. A woman on an adult-size tricycle commented on the slogan on my tee-shirt.

    “Each one teach one,” she said, reading the faded letters on my decade-old tee. “I taught for nine years. I think I reached one. Maybe,” she said a hint of sarcasm in her voice.

    “Nine years? I’m sure you reached a lot of students,” I said with a kind smile. When she told me what grades she taught I was sure she had made a difference in many lives. “High school? Bless your heart,” I said. “You helped usher some young folks toward the real world.”

    She shook her head at the recollections. Her students who had failed throughout their high school years seemed more prepared for the real world, she explained. Her students who had only a life of academic excellence, constant cheering from their parents and teachers, and no failures to draw on, she feared, were not prepared for what faced them beyond their parents coddling and encouragement. Her comments seemed ironic because the day before I had checked out Tavis Smiley’s book, “Fail Up,” from the library. I told the woman about the book and its premise: that we learn more from our failures than our successes. The book title had caught my attention from across the room. It seemed to be just what I needed to put into perspective my latest woes.

    I had recently confessed bitterly to one of my sisters, “I have failed at everything.” She insisted I was tripping. I had been the one growing up, making honor roll, enjoying our parent’s cheers when I was inducted into the honor society. I felt grand when I proved myself worthy of scholarships thanks to my mastery of a couple instruments. I had practiced daily, like Dad suggested, and it paid off, as we all expected. But my young adult years had not been so favorable. Things did not always go as planned. A few mistakes and, wham! Out of a job, out of a career, out of money, damn-near out of my mind.

    My sister insisted I was measuring my success all wrong. The family had been proud of the jobs I landed – at our hometown newspaper, on radio, at a local TV station. My sister had been very proud to accompany me to an awards ceremony for my first journalism award. My best friend from childhood had proudly accompanied me to another one. When I published a book they were thrilled. A complete failure? My sister insisted I re-evaluate. They were happy I had landed the jobs. I had considered it a failure that I had not managed to stay on the jobs longer. God’s plan is better than our plan, my sister reminded me. I obviously was meant to be in those places only the time I was there. I may never know how many people read what I wrote, she said, Furthermore, if only two people read it and were helped by it then writing it was a success.

    The conversation with my sister had me at least considering re-evaluating what I was considering failures. Then, Smiley’s book carried me further. He used research and personal anecdotes to make the case. As if that was not enough, I met a complete stranger, who broached the subject without me even asking.

    We chatted for about 15 minutes about the school where she taught, the challenges she experienced, and the lessons she taught and learned. She said her fear for her students who never failed is that when they inevitably do, they won’t know how to handle it. I finally agreed I should be thankful for my failures.

    “People who have never failed not only can’t handle their own failures, they can’t handle it when someone they love fails either,” I said. “It’s embarrassing. They can’t understand it. It’s the end of the world.” She nodded in agreement.

    I certainly have become more empathetic, less judgmental and less critical of others through my own disappointments and failures. I have also learned that sometimes I am my sister’s keeper, and sometimes, when I least expect it, she is mine. I have learned that God’s love and grace really is sufficient. It will bring a stranger onto my path to confirm a message I obviously needed to hear. The woman I met identified herself only as “Renee.” In my heart, she was an angel, teaching wherever she happened to be because that happens to be her assignment, whether on someone’s clock or not.

    As we parted, I assured her, “You reached another one.”


    Sonsyrea Tate Montgomery is the author of “Little X: Growing up in the Nation of Islam,” and “Do Me Twice: My Life After Islam.” Her latest book, a novel, “Capitol Madness: Working on Capitol Hill,” will be released in 2012. Sonsyrea’s blog will appear on Soul Rhythms every Wednesday. You can also read her at Sonsyrea’s Blog.






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