The Reality of Failure

Most overachieving high school seniors anxiously anticipate their collegiate years with high expectations. From the time we walk through the Christy Mathewson Gates at Bucknell during Orientation, it can be very easy to get the idea that we need to major in this, be involved in that and have this experience etc. As involved Bucknellians, we often fall into this trap, placing high expectations on ourselves in the pursuit of perfection, defined by great grades, an active social life, and the ability to create the future we have dreamed up in our head. We do all of this to create the perfect college experience completed with flawless photos, amazing stories, and unforgettable memories. The problem is that this is far from the reality.

In 2011, Conan O’Brien gave a speech to the Dartmouth graduating class. He explained that in his career, there were times that things weren’t going the way he expected. Slotted to take over The Tonight Show, which he believed to be the ultimate accomplishment for late night comedy, Jay Leno was given the position instead. Rather than taking over the show, he made changes in his life including national tours, using social media to share comedy, and starting a new program, completely ditching his preconceived idea of where his career was headed. He concluded by stating that "it is our failure to become our perceived ideal that ultimately defines us and makes us unique." Conan’s words are especially inspirational for young people trying to build their life. Even someone as successful as Conan faced major setbacks, even late into his established career. However, he finally realized through his failure to achieve them, that one does not need to achieve a set list of milestones Conan went on to what he claimed to be “the most satisfying year of my career.” Through this unexpected experience, something that at the time he found so disheartening, Conan truly found himself.

Failing an exam, fights with friends, and the inevitable “Freshman 15” are common reminders that even though we are living “the best four years of our life,” it’s at times a very bumpy road. Attending Bucknell, it can seem like everyone has their life together of what they want to accomplish at school (honestly, what happened to being undeclared - there are freshman and sophomores already lining up internships and grad school aspirations?). However, the reality is that this is not the case.

Talking to a lot of friends, alumni, and family who are in, or have gone through, college, many said that the most insightful experiences were when they found themselves having to make a tough decision or were on the floor crying to their mom in the hallway. Holly Grosholz  ’17 said, “I remember freshman year I faced a lot of rejection from opportunities on campus, which was disheartening being someone who always had leadership roles in high school. However cheesy it sounds, perceived failure at the time ended up opening doors for other opportunities on campus that have truly shaped me into who I am today. I honestly have failure to thank for showing me that not always having things work out the way you imagined is often a blessing in disguise.” Having a falling out with a friend can make you realize what you look for in friendship and failing your freshman year math class may make you reevaluate your dreams of being a Calc. professor. Failure is not something to fear, but something to embrace.

Surely any senior reading this would likely look back at their college experience very differently than they thought it would be coming in. You are not the person you were at 18 years old and are not the person you will be when you cross the stage in the quad to get your diploma, whether it’s this May or in three years from now. But that’s ok. What would life be  like if everything went the way we wanted it to? There would likely be no adventure or excitement in life if we all lived in comfort and predictability. Like dreams and favorite desserts, our lives are constantly evolving, and it is the mistakes and experiences that happen in college that are helping us become the person we will be.