I reached him, sitting in his car, and from the sound of his voice I could picture the isolation and desperation he was feeling. Turns out he and his roommate had a combined project in engineering that was due this morning. He had worked all night, but still had not succeeded in making it work. He started off giving me all the reasons that success was elusive. 1. The instructor changed the criteria on them half way through and they had to "reinvent the wheel" 2. The same teacher had three major projects due the same week. 3. The tool room to fabricate the project was packed and so instead of using the professional die machines, he decided to make it using the tools he had at home. 4. His roommate didn't start his part of the project until last night............ I commiserated with him, for I really felt his pain, but wanted him to work through it so he could connect to what was causing this feeling of failure that radiated from him.
First we discussed that as an "outside the box thinker" Kellan is extremely creative; sometimes his unique ideas work, and sometimes they do not. When I asked if this could be the issue he stated, No, that it was a tried and true idea and should have worked. I brought up that as an engineer he would need to work with others to create something new and that group projects in college were, in large part, trying to teach him how to work as a team, and as an individual with a strong opinion of what should happen he may have taken on too much without including his partner. He agreed that he can be known to want things "his" way, but that was not the biggest issue. They had split the project with one doing the written work and the other the model building. As we progressed along with this question and answer session I got closer to what I felt was the main problem, so I shared with him stories of when I felt similar, such as in high school when Tracey Sang and I were assigned as team mates on a big project. She finished a week before the due date, while I waited, as usual, and handed her my pages (ah BI, before internet) minutes before it was due. I felt terrible about myself, but couldn't figure out why as I was doing what I always do. We also talked about how he and I share a perfectionism gene, something I have learned stops me from investing myself in things I worry I might fail, or stops me from completing projects but they are just south of perfect. Having finally believed I had arrived at the true issue I asked him are you mad that the project didn't turn out, or mad at yourself for procrastinating and letting your friend down?
Of course it was an easy choice, it was himself he was mad at. Embarrassed that he had let his friend down (he actually had his roommate take the project in today and skipped class because, although he didn't realize it at the time, he was too embarrassed to turn in a failure. I tried to tell him that it is a life lesson, although I didn't change with my Tracey Sang incident, it made me aware of what I had done, and I tried to do better in the future. Today I do try to begin way in advance and get a project done early, but I still procrastinate to some degree and fear is my biggest enemy. I impressed on him that I do not want these issues to stop him from becoming the most amazing person he can be.
I suggested we figure out some steps he needs to take. First he needs to find his roommate and apologize, not just for letting him down, but also for leaving him holding the ball. He needs to tell him that in the future he will try to do better and ask him not to give up on him. I shared with him that recently his brother was in a similar predicament, although on the other side, Keaton had picked someone as a partner he thought would get the job done, but during the process he realize this person might not fulfill his part. So Keaton had taken on the responsibility of the whole project and his friendship with the other had suffered as respect was lost, Kellan would have to earn that respect back. We also discussed that even though he was getting better at organizing when his work is due, we may need to help him create a system that blocks off periods of time for each assignment and break the large assignments into smaller components......something that I realize now he has not learned because he never needed it due to the fact that he skated through high school.
Our conversation ended with him still feeling like crap about himself, but with an understanding about why he felt like he did and a plan to work on for the future. As I thought about our "lesson" I realized how alike we are in so many ways and that some lessons that were painful for me to learn, serve an even higher purpose in that by understanding my failures, I can impart that knowledge to Kellan.............now I can only hope he learns from it the first time.