You’re the 7 year old version of yourself again and while at school there is a classmate bragging about how fast they are and that no one in the world can beat them in a foot race. So what do you do? You call BS and challenge them to a race because you’ve been in a few races before and you also believe that you are pretty fast. Race time comes, you both line up with a contingency of classmates gathered around to witness the result firsthand. On your mark, get set, GO! You both blast off the starting mark and a quick 5 seconds later, you both arrive at the finish line where your aforementioned classmate is deemed the WINNER. You are crushed and that classmate maintains their title of fastest human alive. You demand a rematch and they obliged because obviously they believe that they cannot be beaten. You prepare all week for the second big race and come race time, you are ready to go. On your mark. Get set, GO! You both fire off the blocks and this time the result is different. You are declared the winner! You let off a victorious battle cry and your classmate whimpers and cries in defeat. They exclaim that they had never been beaten before and it becomes obvious that they are on the verge of a mental breakdown. As a kind and reciprocating gesture, you offer them a rematch to have another shot at the crown, but they reject the invitation and proclaim that they will never race again…Talent wasted and potential unfulfilled.
Why is this story important? What is the primary difference between these two individuals?
You probably guessed it.
The difference is in their fighting spirit and how they handled failure.
In this simple story, each individual had two options to choose from: 1) Go back to the drawing board, work harder, and try again; or 2) Quit and let the failure define their entire person and identity.
There are some extremely gifted individuals in this world, but if we aren’t careful then it is possible for instances of failure to derail that natural talent.
REMEMBER THIS…FAILURE IS GOING TO HAPPEN TO YOU AT SOME POINT! FAILURE IS NATURAL AND IT IS A SIGN THAT YOU ARE TAKING RISKS AND DEDICATED TO GROWING AS A PERSON.
In academia specifically, understand that high school and college are your opportunities to explore the world and to experience as much “healthy” failure as possible before you step into the “real world” where nobody cares whether you sink or swim.
I understand that there always seems to be a pressure hovering over you to maintain the highest GPA possible or to fulfill some extra-curricular studious obligations; however, it is important to remember that your college experience is you own and though some of your failures may come with painful consequences, those consequences do not define your quality as a scholar or human being.
Failing at something does not make you a failure.
Quitting and succumbing to the experience is what makes you a failure. In academics, from grade school to the doctoral level, persistence is essential. School and learning are not easy and sometimes they take time. Content matter can be very complex and therefore you be prepared to face the reality that you won’t always master every subject the first few times you see it.
Sometimes you will have to practice.
Sometimes you will have to train.
Sometimes you will have to sacrifice.
Sometimes you will fail a quiz, exam, or class.
Sometimes you will feel lost or left behind.
Sometimes you will feel like you’re all alone.
Sometimes you will feel like the walls of life are all falling down on you at one time.
Sometimes you will do things that are completely out of your character.
Picture academics as a quest for self-mastery and self-understanding.
Learn who you are, learn your limits, and learn how great you can really be by continuing to challenge yourself. Continue to push yourself. Continue to set high goals and expectations for yourself. And most importantly, continue to put yourself in uncomfortable situations to foster growing environments.
Sometimes the most difficult of failure is not your own self-belief, but it is the backlash that you may get from the people around you.
If persistence is the #1 trait for academic success, then having thick skin and mental toughness is a close #2.
Train your mind to be tough and resistant to the negativity that others try to place on you. Negative comments and ideals will come your way if what you are doing doesn’t align with someone else’s vision of what you should be doing. Many times people unknowingly project their own insecurities and negative beliefs onto other people. In these situations, it is CRITICAL that you maintain your poise, vision, and self-belief.
Do not let someone else’s insecurities and fears dictate your actions. People can really give terrible advice when they are operating out of their own fears and insecurities.
To help me through these types of scenarios, I would pray for understanding and direction, then I would layout a vision and goals for myself, and whenever someone would say things that I felt didn’t add value to my vision or long-term goals I would take it as a grain of salt.
Your life is YOUR life to live and to experience everything that you so choose. That goes for the successes and the failures. Accept your failures as a part of your life journey and experiences, just as you would your successes.
Real life isn’t “Instagram PERFECT.” You can’t put a filter on failure and make it feel or look good.
Take this final thought with you…
You are unique, but you are human. There are other people who are experiencing the same struggles as you are. If you do not learn how to defeat your failures, then how can you teach a younger person how do handle their similar failure?
There is no shame in failure and defeat does not make you a failure.
Quitting and accepting defeat makes you a failure.
Train the future best version of yourself through continued failure!
Dr. Gabriel Burks is dedicated to increasing higher education awareness and showing aspiring scholars the power of science.