Whether we are aware of it or not, we are conditioned to believe that success is everything.
At school we are praised for winning races at sports day or for successfully learning a new song on the piano. We desire to be elected onto the Prefect team and to receive a high enough ATAR to do our dream course at university because this means we have succeeded. We are taught to admire successful people, to aspire to be the best we can be, to not settle for anything less than success whether it be academic, financial or personal. I grew up in this bubble of success – one of those annoying people who seemed to succeed at everything I put my mind to. And then I took Property A in the first semester of my second year of my Arts/Law degree.
The girl who always succeeded failed dramatically, receiving the pitiful grade of 42% and my irrational mind declared the world to be over.
After bawling my eyes out in the fresh fruit section of the grocery store upon checking my results, my emotions began to roll in. I was mind-blowingly disappointed that my hours and hours of hard work throughout the entire semester hadn’t paid off. I was beyond frustrated that I would have to re-sit the entire unit and that this would hold me back from learning new and exciting things in a degree I was genuinely so passionate about. But then failing triggered something in me that was more than just mere frustration and disappointment.
Without going into the gory details of what else was happening in my little world, the next year of my life was by far the most challenging. Failing Property A was just the start of a bunch of shit that sent my mental health in a rapid downward spiral, sort of like a burnt tornado potato. Most people don’t know this because I maintain (a seriously damaging) façade of being on top of the world 24/7.
This in itself is a product of my desire to succeed because I am so desperate to prove to myself and everyone else around me that I am happy and thriving and that my life is all sunshine and rainbows.
It took me months to finally work through my emotions to realise what was wrong and what I needed to do to fix it.
It was as simple as this: I had never learnt how to fail.
I didn’t know how to cope with disappointment or rejection or loss or any other negative emotion because I had never felt them properly before. So when I was suddenly confronted with a bunch of different and overwhelming circumstances all at once (failing Property A being one of then), I was feeling all these horrible things simultaneously and I had no way of managing them.
After 21 years of spinning around the sun, I literally had to teach myself from scratch how to deal with negativity. I did this by throwing myself into situations where I would inevitably feel all those emotions that until now had been so foreign to me. I tried sports I knew I would suck at. I opened my heart to relationships that I knew would end. I moved overseas for a year and failed disastrously a hundred times over by 1) accidentally ordering meat dishes at restaurants (which as a vegetarian on a budget, is never fun), 2) going to the wrong airport and spending 180 euros on a taxi to make my flight and 3) getting disastrously lost when I ignored the suggested route on google maps, time and time again.
Every time I have failed at something, I have learnt more about myself and how to get through it. Here are just some of the things I now know for sure:
- Failing doesn’t make you a failure. Failing just makes you human.
- Nobody really cares when you fail except you, so take embarrassment out of the emotional equation and focus on dealing with everything else to get through it.
- If you did your best and still failed then it’s not actually failing at all so don’t be so hard on yourself.
- Perspective is everything. Will failing this matter in 5 weeks time? How about 5 months? Or 5 years? Probably not. You’ve failed. It is done. Let it go.
- If you have failed, I promise that you will be okay. The sun will come up tomorrow, Trump will unfortunately still be President, avocados will be too expensive and you will come out of this experience a better person.
Here comes the cheesy bit. If you haven’t failed – please don’t be afraid of it. It might just change the way you view the world, like it has for me. Failing has taught me to say yes to everything without fear of failure. I now say yes to living in a way the old me was too afraid to try because I know now that I can overcome whatever comes my way. In this way, failing is better than the endorphins you feel at the end of a run, the excitement of free donuts at uni on a rainy day, the feeling of making a friend laugh with a stupid dad joke. Failing is fantastic.
PS – I got a killer grade in Property B.
Rebecca Jaffe (Contributor)
Rebecca Jaffe is a fourth year Arts/Law student who is currently on exchange in Tilburg, The Netherlands. When she isn’t laughing at her own horrendous jokes or dropping truth-bombs of wisdom you can probably find her in the back of a library with the most impressive study snacks in the building. Find her on Insta @becjaffe