Dealing with failure


How to get up and over it when you fall short

When I was in high school, studying seemed like a foreign concept to me. I went to class and I got 90s. I never had to spend hours over a book learning concepts, I just finished the assigned homework that would be checked and called it a night. For a lot of people, learning at the high school level comes easily. Because of that, I had pretty high expectations for success at the university level too. Problem is, university and high school are nothing alike.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. It’s hard to properly explain the feeling of looking at a midterm you got back and for the first time in your life seeing a number below a 70 – let alone a 50 – scribbled on the page. I seem to have vague memories of tears welling up, and embarrassingly walking back to residence with my head hung awfully low. That was the frosh me, though. I’ve come a long way since then, with graduation coming up quickly on the horizon; I’ve learned new study habits and I’ve adapted to university life. Most importantly though, I’ve learned that failure is par for the course.

Of course, just because everyone deals with failure doesn’t mean it’s easy to deal with, especially if you’re a perfectionist. The important thing to remember is that you’re not alone. Someone will always be getting better grades than you, and consequently someone else will always be getting worse. Trust me, although it feels like the Earth is shattering, you are far from the first person to fail a midterm and you will be far from the last. Furthermore, there are lots of factors that go into how well you do on a test. Just because your friend did better than you doesn’t mean you’re not as smart as them; maybe they studied longer, or got more sleep the night before. Grades are not reflective of who you are or how smart you are, and you should never think of them that way.

One thing I also learned as I got older is that everyone has a different path to get to where they want to be. Some people do their degree in four years, and others do it in eight. That doesn’t mean either person is better than the other, they simply took different paths. Everyone has a different pace and everyone is headed for a different destination. In fact, you may be reading this and thinking to yourself “I don’t think university was the right choice for me.” There is no shame in dropping out if you don’t think this degree is the right direction for your future. It can be hard to bring yourself to do it if all your friends are at university, or your parents pressured you into going in the first place. Just remember that it’s your life, not your parents’ or your friends’, and you should always do what you feel is best for yourself.

I’ve mainly talked academics up to this point, but that is far from the only domain in which people experience failure. Maybe you’re facing the end of a long-distance relationship with your high school sweetheart. Maybe you applied for a part-time job and weren’t the selected candidate. Maybe it’s something as simple as completely botching that new vegan recipe you found on Pinterest that you wanted to try.  Whatever it may be, the important thing is to not dwell in the perceived failure. Look at it closely and use it as an opportunity for learning and growth. What went wrong? Where can I be better? Don’t worry about what other people are doing; the only person you should be comparing yourself to is your past self. Every time you fail, you learn something about yourself. It’s kind of life’s process of elimination: you fail so that you can learn what doesn’t work for you, and in that way you’re closer to figuring out what does. Failure is part of the human condition, so just take in on the chin and keep your head up, kid.