After Failure

I failed a class fall quarter. I am quick to assure people that I took the class pass/fail so it “didn’t touch my GPA”, as if convincing them that my GPA remaining intact will silence my own self-doubt about my abilities. My social sciences major requires two quarters worth of social science statistics. In general, math and I are not on good terms and haven’t seen much of each other since my sophomore year of high school — which was basically eons ago.

Stats did not go well. Whether it was the three weeks of school we had canceled (which occurred right before the midterm exam) or my own shortcomings, statistics didn’t click with me. The end of the quarter rolled around, and I realized that even if I got a 100% on the final, weighting wise, it wouldn’t boost my grade enough to pass (yes, I failed that badly). So, after a few small breakdowns, I saved all my notes, power points, and lecture slides and filed them away for that distant sometime-in-the-future moment when I would have to take stats again.

I have taken pride in my ability to excel academically for years. I have become accustomed to succeeding. In life, and in college particularly, it is alarmingly easy to become focused on one’s grades. So easy that you might miss it even happening. At a nationally ranked public research university like Davis, it is no secret that I am surrounded every day by some of the brightest students from high schools across California and the world. Each one of us was handpicked from our schools for our exemplary academic standing. There is validity in that; sometimes grades do represent one’s ability and aptitude. But it is also incredibly limiting. I had spent years perfecting myself, branding myself, subconsciously defining my own success and self-worth by letters on paper. When fall quarter ended, my confidence faltered. Failure was a first.

Four weeks ago, I walked back into that same classroom to retake that same class. New professor, new students, and me. I hadn’t realized just how personally I had taken that failure so many months before until a familiar sounding lecture began and I started to panic. My pulse quickened. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I had convinced myself that I would be unable to do any better this time. That one failure equated final failure.

It’s four weeks later and I am preparing for the midterm exam. Now, I meet with my professor regularly, take notes both in class and after, and start my homework packets weeks in advance. If nothing else, I have adjusted to working overtime.

Failure is not final. In fact, failure is one of the most natural occurrences in life. It is paramount to remember that there is a learning curve, that no one will excel in everything. We have become so accustomed to competing with those around us and, more importantly, with ourselves. For the first time in my three years here and my many years of schooling before that, I am retaking a class. And although my own doubts clouded my outlook, I am confident in my ability to prove my week-one-self wrong the second time around.