Nicko, 24

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Fear is something which I think is a very misunderstood topic these days, something which we’re forced upon in choosing a direction rather than understanding how it’s there to be used as a good thing for change.

Fear was something that was heavily placed on me as a child, and defined for me what was acceptable or not, what was good or bad. I’m doing engineering right now, I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I chose it, but chose it because it was prestigious, it has status and my mum approved of it. But I didn’t do it because I loved it.

My passion is 2D animation, I want to live in the forest by myself, make my own tree house and have a sustainable life on my own. But society says you can’t do that, and one of my biggest failures would be listening to that and not doing the stuff I love.

I took the year off on my 4th year to face the unknown and explore 2D animation. From that I learnt to just finish my engineering degree not as a back-up plan, but rather, see it positively in that I’ll gain a lot of skills, and do it for self-accomplishment. Ever since thinking about that in that way, it’s changed my perspective on failing.

But going under this experience, I’m still very controlled by fear. Now it’s more about accepting and understanding that it’s there, that it’s shaped my identity, and that I have a choice to integrate my fear of failure with what I have now and change the way I think.

 

Dealing with failure, what’s next?

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It always sounds easier than done when someone tells you to learn from your failures. Sure, the concept sounds great, but do they really understand the feeling of defeat, the rejection you felt? Answer is most likely less, but in different ways, since we’ve all failed to some degree. But still, can’t beat the blues? Here are some ways that’ll hopefully keep your head up.

  1. Acknowledgement, to let it go.
    There’s a saying that the more you immerse yourself in a feeling, the easier it’ll be to let it go later. Don’t do that half-half thing where you kinda admit it but you don’t actually come to peace with it. Do it properly, feel all the pain you feel, think it through 600 times over if you must. Eventually, we’ll reach a stage where we get bored of thinking the same thing, and we’ve become so immersed in the pain and heartache (sounds awfully dramatic) that we essentially can’t get any deeper so we end up floating back to the surface (i.e. reality – and that Earth stands still for no one)
  2. Write it down.
    I know, I know. It’s almost like admitting you failed. But that sounds awfully like exactly what you’re meant to be doing. Don’t just write about your failures though, but them in line with your successes. We’ll both succeed and fail, but if you fail, you might as well extract all the ‘good’ stuff from failing. What did you learn during this process? How will you change it differently next time?
  3. Bury yourself deep in pick-me-up videos.
    We all need that inspiration sometimes. Whether it’s videos about extremely successful people who have failed, or TedTalks about failing, or reading 60 Humans of New York posts in order to make yourself feel better, do it. It took my about 4 days of constant watching till I snapped out of it. Read here as well, about a successful Stanford professor that listed all his failures, then read about his successes. You’ll notice that they come hand in hand.
  4. Make a plan and construct your fears.
    Whilst undergoing my own self pity-parties, I came across a video that advocates setting your failures, also known as “failure-setting”. Which helps you control what you can and can’t control, and rather have fear and failure hit you at full force all at once, you can mentally and emotionally plan for them and be, well, one step ahead.
  5. Think back on your past failures.
    Now realise you’ve gotten over them before, and surely you’ll get over this one now. Sure this failure might’ve been grander, you might be in an extremely dire situation now, but then realise the obstacles you have to come might even be grander than that. Were you raised a quitter? If you were, then nows the time to change it. If you aren’t, then here’s the time to prove it. If you’re a neither-nor, then choose the better side. If possible, think of a failure and how it’s actually led to something good. Hopefully, you’ll see the light at the end of the tunnel by doing so.
  6. Change your mindset.
    Change your mindset into one of inevitability – that everyone fails, you HAVE failed, and you most certainly WILL fail. Realise your strength lies in not avoiding these failures for the rest of your life, but rather having the strength to overcome them. You’re on the 50/50 section and how you think now and how you approach failure in the future will really change the way you perceive things.
    I also like to heathily dose (and hopefully not cross into the fields of existentialism) by zooming out back onto my existence and realising that I am really just a small speck in the Universe. If I look at it that way, sometimes I feel like my failures are more insignificant and less well, shit.

Have a better tip? Leave it in the comments!

Josh, 23

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I use to think that it was my fault for a long time, but after a long time I realised it wasn’t. My mother was in an abusive relationship with her boyfriend, and when everyone left, I stayed thinking I could help her.

I developed depression at that time, and from year 9-10 my schooling was unstable so it was hard to do well in year 11-12. I used to do bartending, but I wanted something more meaningful in my life. At the time I also attended mental health services like Beyond Blue and Headspace, and it helped me a lot. I retook my ATAR test 2 years ago, and now I do psychology. I want to help young adults with mental health issues like the way I was helped.

Coming from all this, it’s taught me that there’s only so much you can put in to try succeed and you can still fail. You take those hits hard, but you don’t let it stop you from progressing further in your life.

Michael, 26

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Failure? I’ve got a lot of those. I’ve made lots of mistakes in the past and failed a lot of times. But if you make a mistake, and learn from it, then it’s a mistake worth making. But if you keep doing the same things over and over again expecting different results, then you’re not learning.

I used to be involved in drugs, crime, gangs and party crowds – they’re probably my biggest failures and regrets. I woke up one day and looked back, and realized how much evil I’d done. I met a guy that completely changed my life, introduced me to church and showed me the path to righteousness. I just looked up and realized I had nothing, even though I had all that materialistic stuff, what is it worth? What is it worth if people get hurt from me gaining the materialistic stuff I had?

I’ve learnt a lot of life lessons though, I guess that’s the upside. Like how to read people, not to judge people, analyse how people act and talk. I guess just more street-wise. What I’ve been through taught me a lot in general and how to live in general. Might’ve been the wrong way to learn, but everyone learns in different ways.

But I’ve learnt a lot from it and now I’m going forward with it and leaving my past where it belongs, because if you keep looking back you’re never going to move forward.

Failure, the author’s perspective.

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Prologue:

As a child, the notion of failure in the form of poor academics was always heavily laced into my life due to the influence of my parents. They came from a background where education was highly regarded due to Confucianism influences. As first generations coming into Australia, my parents worked back breakingly hard to survive and saw education as a path to gaining a good job. This meant a comfortable lifestyle, free of 12-hour dish-washing jobs and living day to day worrying about the next meal.

High School:

This heavy emphasis on academic excellence, where you strive to achieve 100%, where you’d be constantly asked for your school reports, and where there was a constant comparison of your academic social standing with their friend’s children became a framework I lived by. Failure was not a good thing, no, it was something to be avoided when you could. Every time I failed, I would blame it on anything but myself. It wasn’t me that failed, instead the test just happened to be too hard, or I just didn’t have enough time.

I wasn’t the only one though. In a school where students were predominantly Asian, where they were brought up with similar influences to mine, they were exactly the same. When I received back a paper and saw that I scored badly, I would sink a little in my chair and slide the paper from the desk straight into my bag. After when someone asked me what I got, instead of telling them I’d ask them what they got instead. Everyone around me did the same – only good marks were proudly displayed, whilst the scores of bad marks were kept quiet as the owners prayed to every spiritual figure to be left alone.

In hindsight now, that fear came hand in hand with the expectations of those around you. My family expected me to do well, my friends expected me to keep doing well, and at a certain point in my HSC year, my teachers expected me to do well too. Failure became a motivator, and I was in a cat-and-mouse game with it constantly trying to outrun it.

There were two instances where now looking back, would illustrate my point most clearly.

  1. In year 9, I did particularly bad in my school reports. Knowing my parents would ask me for it, and with less than 2 A’s (which blatantly signalled the end of the world at that age), I presented them a fake report. Same name, same everything, but with different grades and ranks. A better version of me if you will, the version they needed to see and the version at that age I really wanted to be.
  2. One of my favourite teachers (to this day) was my year 12 biology teacher. Having consistently maintained a high rank, I one day received my test results that made my rank drop from #3 to #27. Now I was on an average rank. When handing back my results he asked ‘Did something happen? Expected you to get a little better than this, but try harder next time!’. For the rest of the class that day I sought comfort in plugging in earphones with my head down on the desk with silent tears of shame.

By the end of high school, I learned to internalise failure. No longer did my parents have to tell me about failing – I knew not to do it by instinct. I never displayed my failures, I never talked about them, I never reflected on them. Success was the only path.

University:

This fear of failure still permeates the way I live to this day (to a much much smaller degree), like the way it permeated my primary school, high school, and now University life. However, with only a stone’s throw away from the ‘real scary adult world’, the stakes are raised higher. Suddenly you needed more than just good marks. You needed a good CV, you needed to make friends that would help your career in the future, you needed to immerse yourself more in societies and clubs, you needed internships, you needed to win awards if you could, you needed networks. In short, you needed a lot to put you one-step above the rest so that you could be one-step closer to scoring a good job. It wasn’t just about the job though. You had to not only be successful in academics, but also physically, in relationships, your friendships, and your career.

Epilogue:

This blog was inspired from a small break-down I had one month ago after being rejected by 4 University societies (a 4/4 100% failure rate). Looking back, it was something so small and so insignificant to be rejected by 4 societies.
It wasn’t even a job.
It wasn’t even an internship.
It wasn’t even failing a class and accumulating my HECS-debt.
No one died.
It was just student-run societies.
But receiving the email with the contents of ‘We are sorry to inform you that you did not make it to …’ hit me hard.

After wallowing in my room of self-despair for around 5 days whilst watching what must’ve been at least 56 stories about failure, success and getting your life back on track, I finally snapped out of it. Since then I’ve approached failure differently, seeing it as a fleeting and inevitable part of my life, and a stepping stone to better things.

I hope this blog helps you too if just a little.