One of my younger friends asked me to write a relevant advice for students today, maybe something they need to learn in school.
Wow, why me? After four years of graduating from college, I honestly don’t know what to say.
Initially, I started thinking the best habits I practiced, but just ended up regretting that one thing I didn’t do:
It’s learning how to fail… even when you did your best and gave your all.
No. Don’t get me wrong.
I never said you must aim to fail because I’m actually an advocate of the opposite. In fact, I hate failing, or even committing a single mistake. When I was a student, I was an achiever who’s always shooting straight for good (and high) grades.
Let me be clear.
I failed some quizzes and exams before, but they weren’t that obvious and massive. However, it’s only by now I deeply experience failing’s consequences, pains, and regrets, which I didn’t learn in school.
Grades vs. Learning
We belong in a culture where grades seem to measure us. Our parents cling to this old educational system that holds our mindset captive. They motivate us to study hard(er) and constantly remind us that quality education is one of the best inheritance they can pass on to us.
However, some parents go beyond and push their children to study in the name of competition. The comparison between achievements of students are often frustrating and hurting to the underachievers, even if we did our best.
Though they may not be intentional, we have been mentally conditioned to hear voices telling us that we must strive for the best and top spot.
Can we say that our educational system has valued good grades over true learning and rankings over knowledge?
We focus on memorizing books, but don’t pay much attention on understanding their application and relevance in our lives.
This creates a culture of perfectionism among students. Sadly, I have set perfect expectations for myself, but I overlooked the part of preparing for failure in case perfection won’t work.
This perfectionist attitude somehow drives us to use grades as basis for receiving love and approval. As a result, we often think that life is all about our statuses instead of experiences.
Failures vs. Being a Failure
In the latest Star Wars movie, “The Last Jedi”, we see Master Yoda confront an old and dejected Luke Skywalker. Luke refuses to teach Rey, a young potential Jedi, because he failed with his last student. Yoda then reminds him that “failure, sometimes, is the best teacher.”
In addition to what I said earlier:
It’s learning how to fail… and how to learn from them.
This differentiates failures, which are instances, from being a failure, which is our mindset. In reality, everyone fails in different aspects of life, but our perspective of failure depends on what or who we value the most.
If we value our grades too much and committed a single mistake, we will still feel like a failure even if we got 99 correct answers.
Once we hold too much on our jobs, but failed to close a prime deal for the first time, we let our failure blame us for our weaknesses.
When we cling to our family and friends over anything else, but experienced problems in our relationships, we think we’re always the cause of relationship failures.
In reality, we learn in school how to avoid failures, but rarely the ways to bounce back from these.
You can Both Fail and Learn in School
This isn’t an excuse to slack off or become lazy.
I just want to show that academics, work performance evaluations, incomes, and other measurements made failures more obvious.
But maintaining numbers is a difficult task. Quantifying failures and avoiding them just add burdens that steal our sleep and hope for a better tomorrow. This leads to a greater, destructive disappointment.
I didn’t fail a single subject while finishing my bachelor’s degree, but I somehow didn’t reach the standards of the corporate world. I realized that I failed to learn in school how to deal with my imperfections and weaknesses.
Failing Backward vs. Failing Forward
I remember my dad sharing his motto during his college years:
With pride, I fail.
Failure is inevitable. We can’t avoid them, even if we try, but we can always change our perspectives.
When failure has become an end of our lives, we’re stuck in a certain situation or memory, or failing backward. Meanwhile, based on John Maxwell’s book, failing forward shows failures aren’t the end of our lives, but our means to learn, come back stronger, and move forward.
They are God’s ways of showing new direction and pointing out the things we need to change in ourselves. We won’t know the gravity of the wrong choices we made when we don’t fail.
They shouldn’t humiliate, but instead, humble us before God and draw us closer to Him and to His grace.
And this is already good news as we learn in school how to prepare for, accept, and stand up from failure.
Fail Hard, Study Harder (and Smarter)
Dealing with failure is a matter of motives.
As students, you should still give your best efforts, but your goal must change. Aim to learn, instead of focusing solely on high grades and places in the honor roll. Awards and recognition are only bonuses to your learning.
And if you fail, make sure you did, not because you gave up, but because you tried.
I occasionally ask myself, “What if I experienced failure earlier?”
I really don’t know. Maybe I haven’t written this, or have created a different blog. Maybe you won’t learn in school the most important life lessons.
Sometimes, they say it’s better to commit mistakes earlier, but this isn’t absolute. Everything, including our failures and learning, still happens in God’s perfect time.