Learning to Embrace Failure

When we first come to college, especially Emory, we’re likely coming from a stellar academic record. I remember high school as the place where I barely did work, barely studied, and still boasted a flawless GPA. It wasn’t something I worked for, it was something I expected. 

Coming to college, that world is flipped on its head. A lot of grades for my classes now come from homework, studying has to start at least two weeks in advance of an exam, and more often than not I have to deflect my parents’ inquiries to my grades with the classic, “Oh, it hasn’t been graded yet.”

No matter how many times people tell you, it’s a slap in the face when you realize that D’s really are going to be getting degrees. It sucks, honestly, and it can lead to a lot of anxiety and disappointment. For me, at least, it felt like a piece of my core identity had been chipped away. I always thought of myself as a “smart kid,” but Emory made me feel like the opposite because everyone here was a smart kid too. 

After three years, hundreds of tears, dozens of appointments with CAPS and Emory Psychiatry, and a number of B’s and C’s, I’ve come to accept that failure is really normal, if not even expected. 

While it’s one of the most difficult challenges, and one that I surely can’t claim perfection at, now is the time to forgive. Thinking about the bad grades, the failed homework assignments, or the horrible exam doesn’t change the result, it just leaves me mentally exhausted. We have to give up hope for a better past, owning what happened so it doesn’t own us. 

As someone who has failed a lot, in more fields than one, I once felt like I was being crushed by a boulder and with each bad thing to happen, the heavier that boulder got. Eventually, this weight got too heavy for me to bear, as it does for everyone at some point, and I broke. By wallowing in self-pity and being crippled to inaction from the fear of failing again, I was wasting away. Time didn’t stop, no matter how badly I felt. 

Hitting rock bottom is not something I suggest you allow yourself to do, but if you find yourself there, at least find comfort in the fact that the only place to go is up. Whether it’s friends, family, a therapist, or even a motivational quote on Instagram, something will push you to take initiative and move forward. Even telling yourself that you screwed up, but it’ll be over soon can help because if the problem was in you, you have the power to learn, do better, and nail it on the next try. 

We each have to bounce back because we have to. Once you allow yourself to remove the weight of failure, the sting will wear off and you’ll be able to learn from it. Figure out what you overlooked, what you forgot, what you should’ve done differently (maybe don’t go to Maggie’s the weekend before your exam) to give yourself the power to succeed next time. Success is within your reach, and this way, no one has the control but you. 

If you’re not failing every now and then, you’re either perfect (unlikely, sorry not sorry) or you’re not being very ambitious, which limits your chances of being amazing. So go out, fail, learn something from it, and be better. It’s only a failure if you don’t learn something from it.