Failure doesn’t have to be all bad


By Shankari Sureshbabu , Columnist

This week, I took a differential equations midterm that, despite my best studying, wrecked me.

It was the first of a fair few midterms this semester that will cause me to look up at the sky and wonder what I’m doing with my life. It shook me up, made me rethink that one 20-minute break I took that one time and smashed my rose-colored fantasy that this was going to be the semester that “I get my life together”.

No more mediocrity for me, I thought. This semester, I was going to ace all my classes, throw myself into extracurriculars, spend tons of time with friends doing idealized things people in movies do in college and still somehow do Pilates once a week. I was going to make Sarah Jessica Parker proclaim, “I don’t know how she does it”.

This exam brought me back down to a less pleasant reality. However, leaving Foellinger at 8 p.m. on a Thursday night, surrounded by people equally dazed and confused as to what the last hour was even about, I felt a little better.

As I gave my friends Monica and Rachael consolation hugs and we wondered aloud if our teachers were out to get us, I remembered that my friends were some of the most intelligent and capable people I knew. They were the types of people that wrecked curves and killed finals. I’m not bragging about my friends — just showing that even some of the most competent people I know were struggling.

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    It’s often hard to talk about failure because it is difficult to tell others that things are going poorly. Admitting that something is wrong is the first and hardest step to self-improvement. At a university, there is no lack of talented, intellectual and inspiring minds hard at work all around us. This creates a drive to succeed, but also just as easily makes us resent every failure. Every misstep, every stupid mistake on a test or forgotten homework assignment can make us feel like we’re screwed.

    This competition to do better and be better is undoubtedly good. Having motivation to succeed not only in academics but in all realms of life is important. For many of us, this competition keeps us going. But just as important as talking about our victories is talking about the struggle, the missteps and the mistakes. This isn’t just a college problem — it starts from the way we were raised.

    In fact, the way parents talk about failure can significantly affect their child’s work ethic and intelligence.

    A study assessing the correlation between perceptions of failure and academic performance found: “The more parents believed that failure is debilitating, the more likely their children were to see them as concerned with their performance outcomes and grades rather than their learning and improvement”.

    This could lead to years of anxiety for the kids who have a warped interpretation of not only failure, but their education and their self-worth as a whole. Parents who instill the belief that any setback can be used as a platform for learning and improving see far better results.

    The study just included young children but the message rings true regardless of age. When someone tweets about their wonderful grades or humblebrags about their internship they might also be struggling with something else. People pick and choose what they share with others on social media, and these small snapshots are not representative of their lives as a whole. If it isn’t their grades that are struggling, it might be something from the multitude of other important facets of their life. Talking about success is easy and fun. Celebrating small victories is a true joy and perhaps the only reason I don’t transfer to a clown college, but just as important is talking about failure.

    Talk about how you screwed up that interview. Talk about how you got turned down by that really cute guy. Talk about how things are just not going your way today, this week, this month or even this year. Talk about how your job’s a joke, you’re broke and your love life’s DOA. Make sure you don’t let these failures be a roadblock to a fresh start or a new opportunity to learn something. Finally, try not to let that next differential equations midterm push you back down.

    Shankari is a sophomore in LAS.

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