How To Overcome Failure

Failure is inevitable.

I know this is probably a typical tutoring article, but it is an experience that almost everyone has to deal with, that far too many people do not discuss.

Failure is just one of those universal truths that each person in the world has to confront at some point in their lives. Yes, yes, yes we all know this and it has been beaten into our heads since we were young, but the reiteration of this somewhat proverbial statement doesn’t ease the burn of failing. And more importantly, why do the successful talk about the inevitability of failure but don’t discuss the ways they overcame it. As if they just picked up their heads immediately and kept going as soon as they learned they failed. Or, they present their success on a linear path as if life didn’t throw a couple of curve balls. But, as a tutor, scholar, and human being, here are some tools to navigate the inevitability of failure.

The last couple of weeks I’ve had to deal with failure. And, trust me it hasn’t been easy. A couple of weeks ago, I interviewed for a super competitive internship that I really wanted. I mean I really wanted it. But, a toxic cocktail of nerves and stressful commitments made my interview less then ideal. When I received the email notifying me that I didn’t progress, I can’t lie and say that I was totally surprised. But, it didn’t ease the burn. I’m Tayler. I am a Marshall scholar, Truman scholar, Spelman woman, member of Phi Beta Kappa, Tavistock Tutor, and high achiever. I was accustomed to winning. Not getting the internship was a slap in the face or more so a slap into reality. In the moment, I tried to dust off an inspirational quote that I may have heard in a speech or a post that I might have seen on my Facebook. But, nothing directly related. All I could hear was successful people saying, “the road wasn’t hard”. Well, what exactly does that mean? Yes, I know the road isn’t hard but how’d you overcome the speed bumps, potholes and malfunctioning vehicles? Can you please describe the struggle and how you would overcome it? How’d you even find a map to direct your journey? How’d these obstacles make you feel and is that normal? But these questions weren’t answered in my log of successful people’s speeches or blogs. It was missing. The skeleton for the perfect all-American, “started from the bottom now I’m here” story was there, yet it was hollow. Successful people discuss failure as an obstacle to be overcame, but don’t discuss how to overcome it.

Since this blow, I’ve had to think about a couple of things… What is success? How do I even judge it or know that I’ve achieved it? Is it two kids and a husband? A foreign car and a mansion? Peace of mind? There are different definitions of success, but I had to ask myself which one did I align with and which one did I strive towards. Also, intertwined in this list of questions is the bigger question of : What life do I want to live and what do I want to leave on the earth? By answering or at the very least exploring these questions, it changed the way that I think about failure. By looking at the two extremes of reality, failure and success, it’s quite apparent that the way that success is achieved is through the variables that I assign it. I have the opportunity to change, alter, and redirect what I personally value as success. So, I shouldn’t allow myself to be invested in one definition of success because it truly is subjective.

For many, academics and college preparation are not linear paths to success. But, rather, they are laden with battles and struggles. To overcome these battles, it is important to establish a plan that defines success for you. Establish goals and seek to achieve those goals everyday. Each day you should be learning something new and trying something different. But, if your plan doesn’t go as you anticipated, you can’t be deterred by feelings of failure or doubting your abilities. Simply, go back to the drawing board and tweak your plan. It’s just that simple. Celebrate the differences in your plan, learn from your mistakes, and keep chugging!

Failure shouldn’t be the definition of your story, but just a chapter in your book.

Additional resources:

Why Do We Fail
Learning from Failure
If You Fail To Plan, Then You are Planning to Fail

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