M.R.S. and the Fear of Failure

M.R.S. and the Fear of Failure

Last update on May 14, 2013.

The confusion was evident on my face. I was nearing the start of my freshman year of college to pursue a B.A. degree. A Bachelor of Arts, not a Masters in Research Science or whatever the “M.R.S.” was that my aunt had referenced. It was the first time I had heard of an M.R.S. degree and I didn’t immediately make the connection to marriage. When I did catch on, I was offended.

I had been encouraged to think of my career, not marriage, as I prepared for college. The focus on career meant that I had a plan for the years following, a plan that would set me up for the have-it-all life I felt I was expected to live. The I do’s would have to wait and should wait, until the to do’s were complete. I assumed that I would complete my advanced degree, secure my dream job, and be a seasoned world traveler before I would marry. To accomplish less, I believed, would mean I failed to meet the expectations I and my family had for me.

 Even as a child, those divorces instilled in me a semi-conscious fear of that my own marriage would one day break up.


I’ve struggled with the fear of failure, and it hasn’t been limited to my career. While I was blessed to be raised in a married home, divorce was still near. Broken marriages have been a part of the story for many in my extended family. Even as a child, those divorces instilled in me a semi-conscious fear of that my own marriage would one day break up.

I suspect that, whether we are aware of it or not, this is a common fear among millennials. Between the focus on career and a fear of divorce, it is no surprise that delaying or forgoing marriage is the new norm for our generation.

The possibility of a later marriage never shocked me, as my own parents married at ages 27 and 29. However, the danger with delaying marriage is that it strengthens a culture that is self-focused instead of other-focused. The question of how one’s career will impact family is a good and legitimate question. But that other-oriented question does not need to be limited to the decisions of those that are married, nor should it be.

I eventually came to recognize that the expectations that I felt my family had for me were false. Instead, I realized that I had been distracted by the public conversations on women, career, children, and relationships. I appreciate articles that have touched on the confusion these discourses are creating such as the recent article by Elsa Walsh in which she identified that a woman’s search for the “good enough” life—not the perfect life, is not failure but rather reflects self-knowledge and maturity. The self-knowledge and maturity she references appears to be based on a woman’s ability to extend grace to herself once she realizes that she cannot live a “perfect life”. But, while Elsa Walsh is able to identify the effects of these public discourses, she doesn’t identify that a “good enough” life is based on comparison and fear just as much as the search for the perfect life.

My fears of failure in career and in marriage have not been quieted because I have found the “good enough” life, but in the fact that I know (what Trip Lee has summarized well in his album and book by the same name) “the good life”. The good life is not based on fear or comparison. The good life is knowing that I don’t have to settle for “good enough” because the perfect life was lived by Jesus Christ. The grace I find in the good life comes not from myself, but from God. It is a life that recognizes the love, mercy, and grace that has been shown by a holy God to people that are selfish, envious, and fearful. The good life is not self-oriented; it is other-oriented.

A good marriage is characterized by this same other-orientation. But an M.R.S. degree is not required to be other-oriented, nor does it guarantee that any individual will live this way. Even if I never marry, I can live in a way that shows an understanding of the other-oriented love that makes a marriage beautiful.

For me, this other-oriented love meant stepping away from pursuing a M.A. because I recognized that my financial debt would be a burden not limited to myself. My studies also meant that I could not assist friends and family when needs arose because I did not have the flexibility in my schedule.

A good marriage will require that I be others-oriented, conscious of the needs of my husband and children. If I ever do become a Mrs., I want to be in the habit of making decisions, not only aware of their impact on myself, but also their impact on others. That sounds like the good life.

Audrey Anderson

Audrey is a daughter, sister, and event coordinator from the Midwest currently residing on the East Coast. Follower her tweeting @AndeauDC.


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