Maybe you felt confident walking into the exam room.
Or maybe you knew your chances were slim.
In my opinion, everything I’m going to talk about here revolves around two main points:
- We all fail at some point in our lives; it happens to everyone.
- Resilience, learning from failure, and retrying are essential skills
Failure seems monumental and terrible mostly because nobody likes to talk about it.
We don’t want to put ourselves in a vulnerable position by revealing our failures, so we tend to focus on our success instead. The result is that people are often left alone to deal with their failures. I’m going to share a few of my own failures in order to show you that you’re not alone – that we’re both on the same playing field.
To begin with, I was definitely not a perfect student. Despite doing well in college, I struggled in our required Systemic Anatomy and Physiology class and Exercise Physiology class. I failed a few tests and barely squeaked by with a passing grade.
I was completely unfamiliar with the terms and concepts in that second class. As a person with ADHD, studying concepts like the Krebs cycle is very difficult for me. If I can’t see it or feel it, it’s like learning another language.
My academic career has been volatile and messy, and those failures are just a few of my low points. But that’s life. Time does not follow a nice, linear curve. Instead, it follows a chaotic sequence of successes and failures. Ups and downs.
You might be way down in a low valley right now. But the failure that got you there is almost certainly not what will keep you there. You’ve been through one low point in your life, and your next step will probably be upward. Now, how do you move up to your next peak as quickly as possible after a failure? We’ll discuss that next.
In my mind, overcoming failure and learning from it is a process that breaks down into five distinct steps. Let’s take a look at each.
Step 1: Damage Control
The first thing you should do after failing is to assess whether you need to take any immediate action.
Imagine that you completely missed a test. Obviously, it is in your best interests to contact your professor as soon as possible to discuss making up the test, since you weren’t at fault for being attacked by ninjas on your way to the testing center in the first place.
Sometimes these things just happen.
Step 2: Get Some Distance
When they first happen, failures seem monumental and earth-shattering. It’s emotional chaos in your head, and you may not be able to do much of anything useful.
Because of that, I think you should take a breather and cool off a bit (after repairing any damage, of course). Go for a walk with a friend, go to bed, or play Animal Crossing for 7 hours. Whatever you do, give your brain some time to relax. Then logic and rationality can take over and start doing more useful things.
Step 3. Identify the Cause of the Failure
A famous quotation from Albert Einstein reads:
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
Identifying the causes of your failure is the first step before you can try again. Where did you go wrong?
When we play video games, we do this naturally. If you attempt to jump over a gap and fall short, for example, you know you’ll need to get a running start to clear it.
- You should also analyze your real-life failures.
- Did you take too many classes this semester? Could you have dropped a class?
- Was the class too difficult?
- Did you simply lack the motivation to study or pay attention?
- Did you fail to utilize good study methods?
- Were you distracted from your classes by something in your personal life?
As soon as you identify what caused you to fail, you need to…
Step 4. Develop an Improved Plan of Attack and Retry
Think about how you can retry in a more intelligent way going forward.
For instance, how might you improve your motivation if you’re unmotivated to study? You might:
- Find an accountability partner
- Create commitment devices
- Instead of studying in your room, study in the library each week
The next step is to implement your new plan of attack and retry.
Step 5: Get Help if You Need It
In the past, I’ve had students send me emails telling me:
“I’m afraid I’ll look stupid if I raise my hand in class.”
In reality, this is far from the truth. It shows a sense of intelligence not to allow ignorance to embarrass you. Not at all stupid.
Furthermore, now that you’ve failed, you know you’re not above seeking help. No one is. We all need help sometimes.
So Visit office hours. If you need a tutor, find one. If you’re confused, raise your hand.
It’s like being on a sinking ship. The first time you see a raft coming to save you, jump on it.
Some Parting Words of Motivation
The sad truth is this. A lot of people just let life happen to them. They let their past mistakes and wrong decisions dictate their future.
Don’t be that person.
It is rare to encounter a failure that completely prevents you from adapting and retrying. The vast majority of failures will simply make you more intelligent and resilient in the future if you don’t give up.
Failure does not mean the end. Instead, it’s an opportunity for growth. You can learn from your failures and retry in a smarter way if you do not like where you ended up. If you don’t like who you were yesterday, begin changing yourself today.