Recognizing accomplishments through failure

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I have failed a number of times – sometimes in big ways, sometimes small ways. I have totaled a brand new car and I have failed a college class. Those are the greatest failures so far in my 20s.

When I totaled my car last winter, I had to go to court on the charge of “failure to maintain proper control of the vehicle”-something along those lines. It was my first time in a courtroom, and it was utterly terrifying. I had to step out of the room because I couldn’t stop crying, and when I finally went up to face the judge, I started sobbing again. The judge listened intently when I told her exactly what went wrong. I was given a fine and ordered to take a driver improvement class. I doubt the judge could have punished me more than I had already been punishing myself.

It was one of the hardest days of my life, but it gave me a life-changing lesson on the concept of humility and being grateful. Not just for life, my own and for others, but for my mom and stepdad who supported me all the way through.

Failing a college class is a less painful lesson. I knew the class was going to be difficult, and after the second week I was in the professor’s office and signing up for tutoring. I didn’t have the necessary algebra skills to understand the concepts behind calculus. I lost hope in the end and failed the final exam, effectively failing the class. I rented an apartment near campus, signed up for the class in summer school, and battled it out once more.

With some grit and effort, I passed the class far more easily the second time. Why? Because I was motivated by my prior failure. I hated feeling like a failure. I was convinced that I was stupid and useless compared to everyone else. Comparing yourself doesn’t do you any good because we are all on different journeys and have different desires. But if you had told me that at the time, I would have covered my ears with my hands and refused to hear it.

I don’t think that it is possible to change your life for better without failure. Otherwise, how aware could you be that you need to change something? If you are not making mistakes or failing, you probably aren’t doing anything worthwhile. It took a frightening accident to make me grateful and humble for what I have in life. It took a college math class to make me realize that maybe what I am doing in school isn’t really what I want to be doing.

I’m not saying that these are the necessary lengths to go to for changing your life for the better. But these “failures” sparked something in me that was not there before real awareness of my thoughts. It’s a simple concept, but one that surprisingly a lot of people don’t know about.

Thoughts are incredibly powerful, and can uplift us to the sky, or sink us down to the trenches. Choosing positive ones over negative ones can make all the difference. So many people choose to see the negative side of a situation, and that makes it seem all the worse.

Not having a car for those first few months was rough. I hated having to rely on other people for rides, and I felt trapped in some ways. But I discovered that it’s actually very freeing not to drive and have to think about driving and all that goes along with it.

Living in a college town was beneficial because I could walk anywhere I needed to go to work and the grocery store. I found myself turning down and started to really enjoy the hike up a hill to the local Food Lion. Those walks became easier every day.

In the midst of my do-over of calculus, and while taking an online accounting course at the same time, I began to reconsider my business major. I asked myself, “is this what I want to study for the next few years? Am I really passionate about these subjects?” The answer was no. I changed to psychology because I like to learn about people and how they think. But it didn’t ignite the flame of my desires. I like the subject, and I want to learn about it – but I don’t think I want to really spend the next three years on it.

So I thought about it for a while – what do I love? I did some brainstorming and went on various Google searches about how to find your passion, how to get what you want in life, etc. Well I want to travel, and I love to write. English was always my favorite class in school, and where I felt confident about my abilities. I have chosen to make it my degree focus, and it’s incredible seeing how much my goals and my perception have changed in the months since I ended my freshman year of college.

None of this would have been possible had I not failed at anything. I would have plodded along and not considered changing the course of my life. Failure was a wake up call for me, and it’s important to learn how to embrace it. But once you dust yourself off and nurse your wounded pride, you are in the position of changing your life for the better.

 

Mari Kiyota

Email: mkiyota@radford.edu