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How to cope with failure: unpacking success at University

It seems sometimes that the fear of failure inflicts more distress than failure itself. Out of the many emotions students may feel on a daily or weekly basis, there seems no bigger dread than failure. We reside within a culture that seems to have an invisible cloak of shame when it comes to things not going well or the way we planned. I call it an invisible cloak as it is not something you see yet it is most definitely felt.

It is harder for students at university as they are caught in a period of their life I call the ‘transition time’. The move from school to university is huge. You find yourself collectively within a group of adults studying and obtaining a degree to enter the working world. Constant questions of what one wants to do once they leave university, what industry they are looking to go into, whether they have an internship this summer, seem to follow students as soon as they begin their studies. Combine these questions with the rise of the young entrepreneurs and influencers like Molly-Mae who have become millionaires before the age of 25, failure doesn’t seem like an option. 

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So much pressure and expectations are placed on your future that it overwhelmingly feels like you must have everything planned out to go a certain way and that it will all go okay the first time around. I don’t think this is a fair way of looking at things.

This perspective originates from a time when I felt like I had failed. It was after I had dropped out of university. I had gone to another university abroad before coming here. I was fully intent on completing my degree and staying there after graduating. Yet after just a few days in, I hated it. I missed home, my parents, my dogs, and my friends. So only a year into my four-year degree, I left, moved back home, and started again at Edinburgh.

During this time, I didn’t just feel like I had failed, I also felt embarrassed, ashamed, and guilty. Here I was, someone who had gone off and done something so different to any of my friends, only for it to crash and burn and send me packing back home after a year.

This feeling followed me into my first year here, so much so that when people asked about what I did in my ‘gap year’ I just said I lived abroad. I didn’t want to disclose how I had dropped out and ended up at Edinburgh, as it opened to questions of why, when, what? It wasn’t something I wanted to talk about.

However, slowly over time, as I told to my friends that I had I dropped out, instead of judging me, they supported me. They applauded me for doing something so bold and having the confidence to admit that it wasn’t for me and leaving.

It was such an uplifting moment that made me realise that the fear of failure, or perceived failure itself, is not something to be embarrassed or ashamed about. Even giving something a chance, whether it is successful or not, and bouncing back after it doesn’t work out is commendable. It highlights a great attribute of yourself – resilience. Phrases like ‘fall nine times, get up ten’, make more sense when you’ve experienced failure. Recovering from challenges, disappointments or curveballs is what is most important of the experience.

I no longer see my failures as something negative; instead, I look at them with a more positive viewpoint. My biggest motivation for not being afraid of failure is that it feels worse to wonder what if? What if I had applied for that job? What if I had a hot girl summer and travelled the world? What if I did a year abroad? Currently, I am applying for internships for the summer with countless applications, assessments, and virtual interviews, I have yet to be successful. I know my chances are not great, yet I still apply because I will feel worse if I don’t even try. By allowing yourself to maybe fail, you are allowing yourself to try. That is what is more important.

Image courtesy of Nick Youngson via Alpha Stock Images