You Shouldn’t Be Afraid to Fail

Last semester, I experienced a student’s worst nightmare. A terrible life event? A coffee shortage? Nope, I failed a class.

Well, technically I got a C- in analytical chemistry. However, I needed a C for it to count toward my major. Suffice it to say, I felt devastated. There were only three tests in the class, and I soon learned that I did not have a knack for electrochemistry. After I got my second test score back, I cried to my mom on the phone for four hours.

I remember being crumpled up in a ball on my bed, dried tears gluing the phone to my face and candy wrappers surrounding me. It truly felt like my life was over and I could kiss my medical school dreams goodbye. How could I ever be successful after this bomb on my transcript?

According to the American Institute of Stress, 3 out of every 4 college students have experienced “overwhelming anxiety” related to school at some point in their college career while 30 percent of those experienced it within the first two weeks. Overwhelming anxiety isn’t simply feeling nervous about an assignment or class. It’s feeling devastatingly trapped in nerves about school.

These statistics are heartbreaking, especially considering college is supposed to be the best years of our lives. Instead, most of us are too stressed about school that we let our mental health, physical health, familial relationships and friendships fall to the side so we can spend hours in the library, pushing our brains to the limit.

I always thought this feeling was normal until my mom saw how devastated I was when I called her. She wasn’t even upset about the grade. She showed more worry about my reaction. Her advice is something I repeat to myself almost daily, “How are you ever going to grow and succeed if this is how you react to failure?”

I realized she was right. Everyone always talks about learning from their failure, but I haven’t ever experienced it. I always had a knack for school and didn’t really have to study. After I got to UF, I realized I had a lot to learn if I wanted to achieve my goals.

Aside from the C-, this past semester was my best semester. I understood the concepts in biochemistry and was finally learning what study habits were best for me. In all other aspects of my life, I was improving and growing, yet I let one silly class make me feel incompetent and unworthy of my dreams. This class was not an indication of whether or not I’d be a successful doctor or if I could handle medical school. It was a wake-up call.  

Once you realize you’re failing a class, you need to reevaluate. Are you not putting in enough effort? Are you stretching yourself too thin or studying ineffectively? How much is this going to affect you emotionally and what can you do to turn the situation around?

I realized that I was stretching myself way too thin. I was taking three science classes with a full course load in a major I didn’t particularly like, working a 20-hour a week research job, participating in clubs, writing an article a week and volunteering weekly at UF Health Shands Hospital. Of course I was failing. Something had to give. Even though I studied for each test and went to office hours, I was too tired all the time to effectively study. I was pushing myself to the max, and it showed.

If you are in my situation, you need to put yourself first. You may think that you are doing the best for yourself, but take a break. Drop one or two things, and focus on what’s truly important. Mourn the situation and realize that you are human. But don’t mourn for too long. Take your lessons, and use them to improve.

After the second test, I went to the class’ office hours religiously. I did all the practice problems I could find. I pestered the TA so much he would walk the other way when he saw me coming. After I realized it wasn’t likely I would pass, I buckled down and poured myself into this class.

I took care of myself as well. I made sure that I got enough sleep at night and started saying no to plans if it meant that I would be overworked. You can’t possibly perform your best if you’re run down, so always make “me” time.

If you’ve done everything you can and still end the semester by failing the class, I assure you it is going to be okay. The world isn’t going to come to a screeching halt. Nobody is going to hate you or think lesser of you. If anything, this experience should reinvigorate your passion for your goals.

I was one question away on the final from passing the class with a C. At that point, I was more impressed that I had improved my test scores by so much that I didn’t care that I didn’t pass. My mom actually gave me a high-five when I got home and showed her the score.

Afterward, I changed my major so I would be taking classes I actually enjoyed. I stopped thinking about what would be impressive to admissions committees and worried more about what I actually wanted to learn for my future. It wasn’t until after winter break that I realized exactly what my mom meant by her advice. Failing is not the pretty, shiny experience people make it out to be. It’s painful and causes you to doubt everything you’ve done and everything you thought you could do. But its also the greatest learning experience. Because I failed this class, I am now in classes I am actually interested in, my passion to become a doctor has become even stronger, and I am less terrified of failing again.

If you find yourself in this situation, take some time to reflect and make an action plan to fix it. If it can’t be fixed, then learn to accept the situation, and try to find the lesson in your failure. After all, failure is what makes you grow the most.