Coping with and owning failure – Ekant Veer

He’s definitely a winner. He was recently awarded the 2017 Teaching Medal. But Associate Prof Ekant Veer says he fails every day.  Here he shares why, even though he hates it, that’s not such a bad thing – and reflects on what makes for a true winner.

Ekant Veer 170628

I fail. Not ‘I failed once’ but I fail and I fail daily. I’ve actually become pretty good at it, it happens so often. Even though I fail a lot it still hurts. It sucks…I HATE failing. And yet I still throw myself into situations where I fail. From an outsider’s perspective I must be either stupid or some sort of masochist to keep going back for more punishment.

Just yesterday I was told by a journal that the research paper I wrote would not be published by them. My work wasn’t good enough. I failed. And I’m going to rewrite the work and send it to someone else…who will probably tell me I suck, too.

Why do I do this? Why would I keep going back for more punishment? Sure, I feel a sense of responsibility to fulfil my role – I mean, it’s my job so I have to. But why would I stay in a job that puts me in a position where I am shit on, on a regular basis?  Well, because failure isn’t a bad thing. It feels bad, for sure, but avoidance of failure is probably the single most common reason for not reaching your potential.

Somewhere along the line society decided that being happy was the most important thing in life. Anything that upsets us or challenges us should be put to one side. Anything hard or confusing should be avoided at all costs.

Bullshit.

That’s not how life works. If you haven’t failed then you aren’t stretching yourself enough. If you haven’t been told ‘you’re not good enough’ you’re not exploring adventures that make life worth living. If you haven’t struggled, then you’re not reaching your full potential…and for me, that’s a waste of talent.

True winners in life aren’t the ones who succeed the most but those that keep getting up after failing and making the changes necessary to give it a better go next time.  Coping with failure isn’t easy but something EVERYONE needs to do because you WILL fail at something. Everything we do has a consequence and sometimes when we fail the consequences seem pretty significant. The bigger the consequences of the failure the harder it is to cope, but you WILL cope.  I can’t solve every problem you face but here are some initial thoughts that help me cope.

* Do things you could fail at. Don’t ever be afraid of trying something new/hard. Trust me, that’s where the interesting stuff is. No one gets excited by mundane tasks. They want to hear the adventures. Go on an adventure and push yourself.

* When you fail, don’t wallow in it. Don’t run away from knowing you’ve failed but when you see you have, don’t put your life on hold and hide away. Don’t let it consume you. Know you’ve failed and then walk away from it for a day or two. Also, don’t rush any major decisions while you feel this way. Everything is up in the air and making big choices when you feel like a failure is a really bad idea, trust me!!!

* When you’ve had a couple of days to let the shock subside, return to the failure and examine it more objectively. What went wrong, why, how? Don’t look for blame. Look for solutions. The solutions should be focused on doing better next time.

* Ask for help. The worst thing you can do is try and sort it out yourself. We are often so embarrassed about failing we don’t tell anyone or share our failures with others. I hate to tell you this, but you are probably not the best person to fix this. Last time you tried, you failed, remember! Don’t be ashamed and ask for help.  Also, it’s better to cry on someone’s shoulder than on your own (again, trust me!!!).

* Don’t rely on external validation to feel worthwhile. No one is going to be your cheerleader. Don’t wait for awards and accolades to determine if you’re good enough. YOU need to drive YOU. You need to know when you’ve done well and when you’re winning. If you wait for someone else you will always see the negative stuff and ignore the positive. It’s normal human confirmation bias.

* Put it in perspective. Did anyone get hurt? You may feel sad for a few days but did anyone really get hurt and is that pain irreparable. Probably not. I work damned hard to do the best I can but I still fail. Guess what, my kids don’t care. They just want me to be home to play with them. There is far more to life than publications, exams, tests, etc. It’s ok for it to be hurt, but failing isn’t the end.

* Try again. And again. And again. Every amazing thing you’ve seen happen is just a reflection of hours, weeks, months, years of trying and failing. If it helps, stay off social media. Hardly anyone posts their failures, just their successes. Don’t compare yourself to them because for every amazing thing they’ve achieved they’ve probably failed a thousand times.

So, is there an easy way to get over failure? No. It takes practice and it takes hard work. Effort is central to your success. Own your failure – don’t externalise the blame. Own it and fix it. Get someone to help you and try again. And if you still fail, does it really matter? It might cost you more time, more money and maybe a little of my pride. But does it really matter? Your friends will still be your friends, your family will still love you. At no point is failure something you should avoid.

And if you’re not failing – push yourself. Give something new a go.  Do something every day that scares you a little.

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Exam results – what to do when your feelings scream at you

Rev. Spanky Moore gets real about feelings following exam results.

Sometimes our feelings can be drama queens.

170626 dramaqueen_Spanky MooreSo…let me explain.

Let’s say something badish happens to you one day:

Maybe you get fired from your job.

Or maybe a friend tells everyone you’re a big meanie behind your back.

Or maybe someone throws a dead eel or half eaten spring roll at you while you’re just innocently walking down the street. (Yes – both have happened to me).

Or maybe you fail a paper at uni.

And suddenly your feelings are screaming at you:

“SEE! I TOLD YOU ALL ALONG THIS WOULD HAPPEN! YOU’RE A LOSER AFTER ALL! IT’S ALL DOWNHILL FROM HERE. SO LET’S JUST GIVE UP NOW AND BECOME A HERMIT BEFORE WE FAIL AGAIN! RUN! HIDE! ABORT!”

Now don’t hear me wrong on this. Our feelings are great. They help us experience the joy of being in love, and they give us the shot of adrenaline to outrun a  tiger before our cognitive functions finally catch up. On a good day our feelings are our best friend! BUT on a bad day sometimes they overreact, and try to tell us that things are much much worse than they actually are.

Yes – flunking out on an exam is pretty stink. But it’s honestly not the end of the world. Even when it (temporarily) feels like it is.

When our feelings start to misfire and tell us lies – we have to try and “speak back” to give them a reality check. We should never equate how we feel in a moment with how things actually will be in the long term. For me that often means getting a friend to bring some real perspective while I’m in the midst of freaking out.

So – sure – maybe you got a bad exam result? And your parents are fuming? And you’re disappointed in yourself? And your degree is now in jeopardy? All these things FEEL pretty bad. But they’re honestly not the end of the world.

Because you are much much more than any of these things.

And – there is always a plan b.

And  – sometimes we have to remind our feelings that they’re just being a bit of a drama queen, and their job is to serve you, not the other way around.

spanky.moore@canterbury.ac.nz 

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Reflections of a Rhodes Scholar

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Rhodes Scholar Hadleigh Frost pictured with Naomi Wolf.

I slowed down after I got the Rhodes. For a while, at least, I didn’t have to prove myself: and, not having to fight for a place in the world, I had space to look outwards. This was a time to see friends — and lavish them with a luxurious amount of attention — to read books, and to watch the world — this deafening world! — from its many lonely park benches. I had travelled a lot before Oxford, but being in this city was, for me, an education. I didn’t meet Sebastian Flyte on my first night, but I did meet Andreas — who hated poor people and wore silk pocket squares. The rockstars of my academic field come regularly to visit. So do rockstars. And, in all this, one starts to see the pecking order of the world played out in pantomime. I know the name of the homeless guy outside the supermarket as well as I know the big name visiting next week. I hear the deferent “yes, sir” and the snide “thank you”. And when a black friend is brusquely turned out of his own college, one feels the bristling racial inequality that exists everywhere, but which is difficult to appreciate from within the Christchurch whitewash.

I have been in Oxford for two years now. I am teaching and writing up difficult research: I finally feel as if I am giving something, however small, to this world, after all that I have been given. These two years have been the most painful of my life. And certainly the best.

Written by Hadleigh Frost

Interested in applying? The closing date for applications is 1 August so start thinking and preparing now. Click here for more information.

Background to Rhodes Scholarships

  • Rhodes’ 1903 Will outlined four criteria to be used in the election of Scholars:
  • “literary and scholastic attainments;
  • the energy to use one’s talents to the full;
  • truth, courage, devotion to duty, sympathy for and protection of the weak, kindliness, unselfishness and fellowship; and
  • moral force of character and instincts to lead, and to take an interest in one’s fellow beings.”
  • Up to three graduates are selected from New Zealand each year. To be eligible they must be either residents or citizens, have spent at least five of the previous ten years in New Zealand, and aged between 19 and of 25. Read more about eligibility here.
  • Globally a total of up to 95 scholars are selected from Australia, Bermuda, Canada, China, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Jamaica & the Commonwealth Caribbean, Kenya, Malaysia, Pakistan, Southern Africa (including South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia and Swaziland)SJLP (including Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine), United Arab Emirates, United States, West Africa(from 2018), Zambia and Zimbabwe as well as New Zealand.
  • In New Zealand, the Scholarships are supported in partnership with the Robertson Foundation. Internationally the Rhodes Trust provides the Rhodes Scholarships in partnership with the Second Century Founder, John McCall MacBain and other benefactors