Facing Failure

A Student Perspective on Dealing with Setbacks

Hello All! Today I wanted to talk about something we all have to do at some point in our lives: facing the fact that you’re not doing too well at something. This is an area I personally struggle with as a Type A perfectionist. I often get so excited about jumping on board with a lot of projects and responsibilities that I lose sight of everything else.

A few weeks ago, I had a serious talk with one of my supervisors over my performance in my job. I am very close to my supervisor, and I feel that she was one of my biggest support systems when I was going through difficult times. However, she gave me a gentle ultimatum: I needed to concentrate more on my work, or I would most likely be let go at the end of the quarter. Hearing this was difficult beyond words for me. I felt awful… nauseous, ashamed, unworthy. I questioned all of the hours, months, and years I had poured into working there. I couldn’t help it — I broke down into tears and started bawling.

Failure isn’t easy. But I think we need to re-frame failure and think about it in a positive, constructive way if we want to move forward. I’ve broken this down into three simple steps:

Step 1: Acceptance

So maybe you failed that really hard biology midterm. Maybe you’re like me and you’re afraid of being fired. Or you actually did get fired. Maybe your relationship just crashed and burned. First, we have to accept that it did happen. Give yourself some time to cry it out. Write sad poetry. Take a walk to process it. Vent to a friend. Yes, this awful thing that hurts our heart and self-esteem really did just happen.

Step 2: Reality check/Now what?

Okay, we know that we just failed at something. However, it’s time to give ourselves a reality check and ask, “Now what?” In a lot of ways, I think this is the hardest step. We have to own up to our mistakes and ask, “What did I do to contribute to this failure? What do I need to do in the future to fix this?” I am a huge fan of making steps (okay, I guess that’s a bit obvious haha), and I write out a list of goals for myself to achieve. For Step 2, talking to another person is extremely useful. Ask your friends for honest feedback and advice. Talk to your supervisor about what they want to see from you. Try going to your professor’s office hours to ask what your options are.

Step 3: Keep it positive!

Realize that you would not have been accepted into this university/offered that job/ dated someone you cared about so much, etc. if you weren’t also an intelligent, amazing, and worthy person to begin with. Failure makes us question ourselves and our identity. However, take this failure as an opportunity to reflect and improve yourself, rather than as something that defines you as a person. Try to think about all of the good things you’ve done and you’re capable of. Are you an awesome people person? Are you really organized? Are you incredibly creative? Whatever your talent or skill is, be sure to rock it. You can do it!

In the end… facing failure is no easy task. I just want you to know that we’ve all been there. Even the people who seem to have their lives completely in order have received criticism at some point. No one is perfect. Here at this university, we are surrounded by so many other driven, intelligent people, that we may mistakenly think that we are the only ones struggling. You are never alone, and we at CAPS want to support you in any way we can. You ARE capable of succeeding! Good luck Slugs!