Why Academic Failure was One Of The Best Things That Ever Happened To Me
For as long as I can remember, grades have been very important to me. I mean, I’ve literally spent my entire life that I can remember in education. I’m lucky because I generally did well at school. I was never top of my class but I never struggled to get by. But when it got to serious exams and I started putting a little bit more work in than normal and my grades rapidly improved, I realised that if I worked a little bit harder than most people I could do pretty well!
And that’s great, right? I learnt that hard work paid off at an early age and the people around me were quite impressed that I was willing to work so hard. But the gratification I got from seeing my hard work pay off was maybe a little bit too much and gradually, I started to become obsessed with my grades. Giving up on other hobbies I enjoyed and neglecting friendships and my social life in order to see just how far hard work could get me.
And to a point, it did get me far. I climbed my way to the the top of my classes! I was on track to get into a great university on a course I was excited about! But none of that really mattered to me anyway because all I cared about was seeing my hard work pay off and achieving the ultimate gratification: my A-Level results.
Everyone around me (teachers, family etc.) were pretty confident that I was going to get the grades I wanted. I mean, I’d been getting them consistently for around two years and I worked harder than ever for my final exams. I wasn’t majorly worried either. ‘If I drop one grade, that’s ok. I didn’t like that class anyway.’ But that was all the reassurance I gave to myself, dropping one grade is ok. Any more? Unspeakable.
I mean, this story is becoming pretty predictable. Of course, I didn’t get the grades I wanted. I got good grades, but they were nowhere near what I wanted and I’ve truly never felt heartbreak like reading the letters printed on that A4 piece of paper.
I cried for about 6 hours straight. And then I cried some more, for weeks. I stopped crying eventually but I didn’t really get over it. I still haven’t really got over it, knowing that hard work doesn’t always pay off and that sometimes people are just unlucky. It’s kind of a hard pill to swallow.
Everyone was telling me that I shouldn’t be upset because I did really well and I had got into my first choice university and many people hadn’t achieved either of these things, which is true, and I did feel unjustified in being so upset. But dedicating two years of my life to these exams and knowing there was nothing more I could have done to get better grades yet still not getting the results I wanted completely knocked my self-confidence and everything I thought I knew about hard work.
But now I look at it differently. What felt like the biggest failure of my life was actually one of the best things that ever happened to me because it allowed me to let go of academic perfectionism. Knowing that hard work doesn’t always pay off means that I’ve learned to live a little and enjoy the other parts of my life that are always gratifying, like holidays and day trips and talking to my best friend on the phone for 2 hours; days out that I’ll remember forever and days in bed that will almost definitely be forgotten, but that doesn’t make them any less pleasurable or important.
My academic failure and what felt like the worst day of my life was actually one of the best things that has ever happened to me, because days and weeks of crying into my cereal and doubting my ability to do anything turned into me letting go of my perfectionist ways and learning to enjoy life again. And now I look at my grades as a very small part of my life, rather than something that defines me and I consider so many things, including the people around me, my mental and physical health and the things that I enjoy doing, as so much more important than numbers on a piece of paper.