Not many people associate failure with success, and there’s a good reason for that. Failure often means inadequacy or a lack of preparedness. However, failure also means something else. It means you’re trying, learning, and growing. It means you’re stumbling your way to expertise. And really, there is no route to expertise that doesn’t involve a few pitfalls. As a toddler, I didn’t just wake up one day knowing how to speak perfect English. I would butcher subject-verb agreements, I would misuse tenses, and I would mispronounce several words. In fact, before grasping the phrase “Will you hold me?” I simply looked at people and said, “Hold you me.” But since then, I’ve developed a firm grasp of the English language, so much so that I went on to study English in college. But here’s the funny thing about college: it takes what you think you know and turns it on itself. All of a sudden, my firm grasp of the English language wasn’t so firm. Sure, I could speak and write and read it, but I couldn’t interpret or manipulate the language like an expert. I still needed to try and learn and grow. I still needed to stumble.
And I’ll admit – stumbling through something is not easy. Actually, that’s a lie. The stumbling part is very easy. It’s the picking yourself back up and telling yourself you’re not a failure that’s not so easy. But why is that? Why are we so quick to label ourselves failures after one mistake? One bad grade? One less than perfect experience?
For me, it was because my identity was tied to my grades. If I didn’t get A’s, I was an incomplete and imperfect person. If I didn’t get A’s, I wasn’t good enough to mingle with those who did. If I didn’t get A’s, I wasn’t an expert. But since my time in college, I’ve noticed a few flaws in my logic, the first being this: you don’t go to college as an expert. The classes you take are meant to teach you things, to introduce you to new concepts, to challenge your belief systems. If you’re getting A’s in those classes from the very start, there’s a good chance you’ve already learned those things, been introduced to those concepts, and survived an assault on your beliefs. And if that’s the case, why are you in those classes? Why are you using college to reinforce what you already know when you could be using it to learn something new? Why are you strategically choosing A’s when college is about a deeper kind of learning? The kind that requires real sacrifice. The kind that tests your limits. The kind that leaves you spent but still hungry for more.
And college is the perfect place to be hungry. Sure, you have plenty of dining halls to keep you in pizza and frozen yogurt, but you also have this awesome buffet of courses and experts and opportunities just waiting for you to take advantage. So please – for yourself and for everyone else not quite so lucky – take advantage of your education. Take classes that interest you, even if they’re “harder” than most. Go after that internship even if you’re told you have a snowball’s chance in Hades. Ask questions even when you think you have all the answers.
But most importantly, don’t be afraid to fail. Because if you’re not failing, you’re not learning. And if you’re not learning, you’re not growing. And if you’re not growing, you’re not doing college right.
Fail. Learn. Grow. Don’t squander deep learning in favor of shallow achievement. That “A” on your transcript means nothing if you can’t articulate and apply the knowledge obtained on your journey to scholastic perfection. So obtain the real knowledge, ask the hard questions, do the even harder work, and stumble your way to success.
“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.” – J.K. Rowling