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Failure’s Guilt Actually Made Me A Better Student

Hey friends! Welcome to a new year! 

2021 has already been a wild ride and it’s only been three weeks! Despite all of the craziness, there are a lot of exciting things coming in 2021. Maybe this is the year you will achieve a goal, or you’re starting post-secondary school this fall, or maybe you’ll fall in love! Life is full of happy, tiny moments and a pandemic can’t fully stop you from enjoying your successes. 

For me, 2021 is the year I graduate from Queen’s University and start teacher’s college (still awaiting an acceptance, fingers crossed!). As sad as I am to be finishing my undergrad, I am very excited for this next chapter in my life. As a way to cope with the next level of adulting, I have recently been reflecting on my time at Queen’s and thinking back to some of my happiest memories here. 

I will never forget my first year because that is when I came out of my shell and met some of the most amazing people. I was very close to my floor mates in residence and we are all still close today. The dorm room parties, dinners in the cafeteria, late night lake swims, stargazing, and countless more fun times were some of my favourite memories I shared with my floor mates. When looking back through my pictures, I can see my friends and I smiling, having a blast. Although, I was hiding a secret that kept me awake at night and caused a lot of anxiety… that I was on the verge of failing out of school. 

I’ll be the first to admit that I was not the greatest student when I first got to Queen’s. I was so excited to make new friends and get that ‘university’ experience that I forgot the main reason why I was enrolled at Queen’s; my education. My first semester I was nervous to get my grades back because I knew that I wasn’t doing my best work. After seeing I was failing 4 out of 5 classes I immediately felt sick to my stomach. I got dizzy and tears filled my eyes. How could this happen? How did I let it get this bad? I was an honours student in high school, so the feeling of failing was something very new to me. I could have easily given up in that moment but I knew that the F’s on my transcript ultimately didn’t define me. I also didn’t want to fail these courses so I worked my hardest the next semester to get my grades to a passing level. Here is how I did it. 

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1. Use your school’s resources

I want you to think back to when you went on a tour of campus or spoke to someone who worked on campus. One piece of advice that they may have given you is “our school has amazing resources and tutors”. But you probably didn’t care as much about that advice, you were probably more focused on decorating your dorm room… it’s okay, I was thinking the exact same thing. Although, I wish I had listened to that advice earlier. When I found out that I was failing, I immediately booked an appointment with an academic advisor. Once I talked to my advisor, I realized that many other people were in my current situation and I was introduced to other resources on campus that could help me. The whole experience was a huge reassurance that I would still pass and continue to stay in school. Go to your school’s website to find out about all the resources they provide; It can’t hurt to get more help!

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2. Your school doesn’t want you to fail

School is not the easiest thing to do. It is a lot of hard work, especially when you have a difficult class or a strict professor. Yet these professors and your school genuinely want to see you succeed, not fail. I made myself the victim when I found out I was failing. I was telling myself: “Well, how does my professor expect me to know this”? “My professor is so mean and giving out too much work”! “It’s not my fault that they didn’t like my essay”. All these thoughts were making me seem like I was a good student and the professors were wrong. When in reality, our professors actually push us because they see the potential in all of us; they want to see us do our best. Once I stopped the victim narrative that I created myself, I appreciated all the hard work that professors do in order to make us the best students we can be. 

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3. Find your balance

As important as it was for me to continue having a social life in university, I also knew that I would need to work double as hard if I wanted to get my grades up. I started to go to the library a bit more often, and started to develop a routine. Something I started doing more in second year is treating the day as if I was working a full time job. During the day I only do school work, chores, or my part time job; essentially something productive. After 4 or 5pm I do whatever I want to do that night, whether that be hanging out with friends or spending time by myself. I started to realize that my full time job was school. During your time at school, it is essential to prioritize your work first. If your friends are true friends, they will understand that your success will come from putting yourself first.  

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4. Go to ALL of your classes

Not missing any one of my classes was probably the choice that saved me the most. All of those classes that I had missed because I was too tired were classes that I could have learned valuable information that I needed for the course. Just simply being there and listening is better than not going at all. I still am a very shy person when it comes to speaking in front of the class, but the one on one experience of talking with the professor after class, if allowed, was helpful to have. In a lot of Art-Sci courses, participation in tutorials is a substantial part of your overall grade. Going to all your tutorials and at least saying something about the course material will impact your grade for the better. Professors actually want to hear your thoughts. It brings up class discussion and it reassures them that their students are understanding, or not understanding, the course. 

Failure’s guilt is what makes me a better student. I almost needed to see those failing grades to put into perspective how easily I can fall behind. It made me appreciate my school and education more because I sure didn’t want to leave. Getting good grades was my incentive to stay at my dream school. Putting in the work, asking for help, and creating a routine helped me bring my grades back up. Yes, I felt so guilty that I wasn’t doing well. I felt that I was letting my family, my school, and myself down. I told myself that I didn’t deserve to be a Queen’s student and I genuinely thought the worst of my academic abilities. Instead of allowing these thoughts to take over, I took my guilt and turned it into proving myself wrong. 

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If you feel that you have failed, I’m here to tell you that it’s okay. I may have failed in my first year and yet I’m still graduating this spring! One bad grade is not going to determine your future; it will only make you a better student. 

Best wishes to all of you hard working students. You will make it!

Kirsten Howard

Queen's U '21

Kirsten Howard is a third year Gender Studies student at Queen's University.
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