How to fail

“Success is not final; failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
― Winston S. Churchill

How it Began
It was a sunny and cold afternoon as the entire class began to walk in and sit down before class started. As always, we all talk about life and other courses—what was more fun to hear about what had happened in other classes? Dr. Patricia comes in; like always, we remain in our seats and doing our businesses until it was time for class to start. Everyone quiet down and begin to pay attention as soon as Dr. Patricia started to talk. Her class always seemed so long due to the horrendous and lengthy notes, but we were finishing up a documentary that day. Twenty minutes into class, we were done with the documentary. We thought that we would be able to leave early like other previous times. However, that day she said she would share a story since we were all seniors in that class and a few of us were not going to return in the spring—except to walk across the stage.

A Story No One Expected
Dr. Patricia told us about her days in college. Like us, she was young and excited. She didn’t fear the future as the present was all that mattered to her. Dr. Patricia told us about how she spent her first-year partying and hanging around a bunch of hippies. Eventually, she became a hippy herself and dropped out of college.

“I know many of you go clubbing on Thursdays and enjoy getting drunk instead of studying. Yeah, I know because I was the same. I spent my days having too much fun that I didn’t get my bachelor’s degree until I was a few years older than all of you right now.”

She spent the following year enjoying her life and freedom until she ended up with a guy and had her oldest child. Unfortunately, the man did not stick around. After her child turned two years old, she decided to go back to college and get her undergraduate degree. At that time, she had had enough time fooling around and wanted to get a promising career to support both her and her child. She told us the struggles of being a single mom and going to school with little to no help and support.

“There were times when I was up late at night studying, and I started crying. I just wanted to give up, but then it would be freezing cold in my house that I decided I needed to preserve through all it and get a better place to live.”

So, she persevered and eventually graduated with Latin Honors and was valedictorian of her class. She continued her education and, in graduate school, met her first ex-husband. They got married, and she had her second child after she earned her master’s degree. Unfortunately, she hit another bottom rock as she and her first ex-husband got a divorce, and now, he left her with two children. After a year of working, she decided to pursue her Doctor of Philosophy. That was also not easy.

“I had to carry my youngest on my back and hold my oldest’s hand while hiking up so many mountains to collect data and continue my grant research. It was so tiring and hard, but when I saw my children. I thought, ‘how much harder it must be for them hiking in the cold and heat, not being able to have a proper meal, and how exhausted they must be just wanting to take a nap.’ I had to comfort them while I had no one to comfort me, but I was fine with that. I thought to myself, as long I made it through all this trouble and got a better job, everything will pay off.”

Once again, she persevered and earned her Ph.D. She did not land a good-paying job right away, but eventually, she made her way up in her career. As for love, she managed to find the perfect man and married him. Together they had two children, but soon they had their differences and thirteen years later divorced. They remained best friends even after he re-married. For her, that is one successful relationship. Finally, she decided to spend her later years teaching, which brought her to our campus. In 2016, she decided it was time to retired.

“My entire life has been filled with lots of ups and downs. You can even say I spent most of my life failing. However, I want all of you to know that just because you fail at one thing doesn’t mean you have completely failed. Failing is part of success, and if you fail successfully, you will find a way to succeed. All of you made it this far, and I am proud of every single one of you. No matter where you all go from here, never give up.”

How I Learn To Fail Successfully
Thirteen years I spent in school, I have never heard “fail successfully.” All I ever heard from other people was that you have to pick yourself back up every time you fail. You have to learn from your mistakes and do not repeat them. However, learning from your mistakes is a given and does not require one to be a rocket scientist to know that. Nonetheless, I graduated, and before pursuing my master’s degree, I have been through endless ups and downs. Even now, I’m still going through a bunch of ups and downs. Whenever I felt like I was going to hit rock’s bottom, I told myself, “please just let me fail successfully.” For some odd reason, Dr. Patricia’s words always come back to me during hard times.

Over these past few years, I learned a lot about how to fail successfully. It begins with emotions; at least it was in my case. I learned that if I leave room to accept mistakes, even the pettiest mistakes, I will feel a lot better about making the mistakes. In the past, I did not allow a single millimeter for making mistakes, which is not healthy and very harsh. I like being perfect and being an overachiever. For the longest time, that was the image that I had built, and that was how other students and colleagues saw as my most desirable traits: perfect and overachieving. It became exhausting, and soon I was losing my sanity even at the slightest mistakes.

I used to blame others for my mistakes or pushed the blame onto someone else because of embarrassment. Now, I do not care. If I made a mistake, then so be it. I come out to accept my mistakes and make sure that everyone knows it was mine and not another person’s doing. Of course, I learn from it and analyze the “what.” What could I have done to make the situation better? What were better options that I had but could not possibly think of to ensure that the same or similar mistakes do not happen again? What went wrong, and how it went wrong? Most importantly, when I admit that I screwed up, I never followed up with “but” or “however.” Following up a “but” or “however” is just lame excuses to justify my actions. That is not acceptable. The more you try to sugarcoat or rationalize it, you will be less likely to learn from it and most likely repeat it.

“Failure is another stepping stone to greatness.” ― Oprah Winfrey.

Everything Is Going to Be Alright
At some point, I started telling my friends, “everything will be alright. Just trust me.” I am actually screaming inside my head, “do not trust me. I do not know what is going to happen next. I am just saying this to make you feel better.” However, my friends always reply, “yeah, you’re right.” It could just be that they know I am trolling them, and they are just going with the flow. But a little positivity does not hurt, and sometimes it helps to bring better results when you felt like you have failed.

There used to be this kid in high school, and he was perfect in every single way. I remember how one of my friends, Becca, once said that he was just so perfect. Yes, she was right. He was just so perfect. So perfect that now I think about it, he is unrelatable. I never once heard him talking about any mistakes he made, nor have I heard other students talk about mistakes he made even during our undergraduate years. I used to think, what would he ever do if he ever made a mistake. Lucky for me, we ran into each other one day, and he solved my curiosity.

Surprisingly he recognized me and asked for my spare time. Of course, I had nothing better to do, so I grabbed Starbucks with him and learned that he was visiting his family for a few days. So, there it began. We catch up with one another, and he starts to update me about his life as if I had always been someone so important to him. Before I knew it, he tells me that I amazed him by still being me—carefree and untouchable. My response to him—I stopped caring about living up to people’s expectations because it was unrealistic. I just let my imperfections flow out because shit happens all the time, and I learned from them. I open up about my mistakes and failures to people I trust and can give me constructive feedback. I am no longer afraid of criticisms and failures.

However, it would be best if you never failed on purpose because while some mistakes are teachable. Some mistakes are impossible to rectify. Therefore, as awful as the mistakes can be, you will have to live with them. So, in situations where you know that you can prevent failure, you need to prevent it from happening. We are humans. We make mistakes. We learn from it. We are full of imperfections. Shit happens, but mistakes and failures can and will lead to success. Everything will turn out alright.


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