I once sat on a student panel in which new freshmen were allowed to ask older students questions about their college experience. At one point, the question, “How many of you have failed something since you’ve come to college?” was posed. A murmur of shock arose from the audience when, without hesitating, each and every member of the panel raised his or her hand.
Let me be more clear. This panel consisted of around ten sophomores, juniors, seniors, athletes and artists, students from a half-a-dozen different majors, all from different backgrounds. The students on this panel had been hand-picked for being successful—for working hard, getting good grades, being involved at the university—and every single one of our hands shot up.
Every college student in the history of college students has messed up on something at some point in their college careers, maybe even on something important. Making mistakes comes with territory of learning to be an adult and do things on your own. Failure can come in many forms: a bad grade on pop quiz or an assignment, forgetting about an important meeting, showing up late to a practice, or letting down a parent or friend. But one failure does not define your college career.
One day during my junior year, I completely forgot about my independent study, which met once a week. Upon remembering, I rushed up three flights of stairs to my professor’s office to apologize.”I’m so sorry. I completely spaced,” I gasped. I am a bit of a perfectionist, and was absolutely appalled with myself for this slip-up.“Hey, it’s ok. Take a breath,” my professor replied.“It happens to everyone. It’s ok to make a mistake.”
I have never forgotten this conversation. In fact, I often call recall my professor’s words when I know that I am being too hard on myself. Although failures can be embarrassing, disappointing, etc., dwelling on past mistakes only distracts you from doing better in the future.
The benefit of failing is the opportunity to learn from your failures. If you can take something away from a bad situation, and learn from it, you can avoid making the same mistakes twice. So when you feel like you’re failing—shake it off, move forward, and reap the fruits of failure. Reach out for help if you need it, but remember, in the wise words of Hannah Montana, “Everybody makes mistakes.”