The mid-semester break is a great opportunity to de-stress and get some rest. If you find yourself spending time worrying that you might have failed your exams though, it may be reassuring to know that you won’t be the only one.
The truth is that fear of failing is a widespread human concern – in the list of common fears that people have, it’s right up there with spiders, clowns and public speaking.
Here’s the thing about failure, though: everyone fails at something, it’s a normal part of the learning process, and even highly successful people experience failure from time to time. In fact, sometimes it is precisely because we fail that our success eventually happens, for failure can teach us things that success never can.
It might sound strange, but whether it’s with a business, relationship, degree, job interview, or driving test, there are ways to approach failure to “fail forward”.
“Making a mistake or failing isn’t the opposite of success—it’s part of it.”
Herb de Vries, Internationally recognised UC Associate Professor & 2015 UC Teaching Medal recipient
Aerospace engineers provide a very interesting example. By their nature, rockets are quite explodey things, and it takes an enormous number of parts and processes working in tandem for them to complete their missions. Because of this, when SpaceX engineers set out to design a rocket that would not only fly up into space, but turn around and come back down again to land, they expected that many of their initial attempts would end in catastrophic failure. They were absolutely right.
What they also expected, though, was to be able to learn from those failures and use them as a basis for improvements to design and manufacturing techniques, thereby leading (eventually) to success. The possibility of failure had to be embraced – and benefited from.
This attitude seems to be not only very healthy, but applicable to a wide variety of life pursuits, including university study. Failure can sometimes trip us up with things we care about, but it can also provide a platform that helps us get even further in the long run – if we choose to use it that way.
So, if a bad grade strikes you, what can you do? Here’s three pieces of advice:
- Deal with the feels: take time out to manage whatever you’re feeling, whether it’s disappointment or frustration or annoyance. Failure can suck, so do positive things for yourself to offset that. Spend time with friends and family, get outdoors, watch your favourite Netflix series – whatever.
- Evaluate the situation: instead of putting it out of mind, put a detective hat on and assess what might have gone wrong. Did you put in enough study and preparation? Did you misread the exam and so give answers that didn’t address the questions set? Were you running at less than 100% due to circumstances like sickness or a breakup? Did you ask enough questions to your lecturers or tutors?
- Make a plan of action: having come up with a list, it’s now practical action that is needed. Going through the factors, what could you control or do differently next time? What extra steps could you take or put in place? You might find it really helpful to talk with support staff for their advice – they can offer objective, honest suggestions to help.
If you would like to read more about the topic, we’ve made a set of webpages covering some of the most important and interesting things.
Either way though, mauria te pono – believe in yourself!
Kairuruku Oranga | Wellbeing Coordinator