Today I attended a voluntary session on fear of failure. We were asked to complete a range of activities in pairs or individually that were set up to be unachievable- setting us up to fail. The administrators also purposefully confused the rules a few times before setting the tasks, and changed the rules halfway through one of the tasks. All of these measures were taken to make us less comfortable in the tasks and our abilities to complete them.
At the end we discussed how it had made us feel to be ranked in last place, or how it felt to try to achieve the tasks that we knew we would fail. And the main messages that came from this session were that when trying to complete an assignment or piece of work that you don’t believe that you can do, just start. Make a start by messing up the first page of your sketchbook, or writing a paragraph about something completely off topic to your essay title. This relaxes your brain whilst still motivating it into taking the first steps into starting off. You can then take another little step into focusing more on the topic of the task at hand, and eventually will be feeling the flow of the activity.
The second point was the most important one made, in my opinion. It is okay to fail. In fact, it can sometimes be a good thing. A word I used to describe failure was opportunistic. I believe that when we fail at something it gives us the opportunity to reflect, and therefore make a decision on what to do next. This could be to ask for help and then try again, so that you can complete the activity to a better standard. Or it could be that you discover that you need to take a different path. This seems daunting and scary and negative at first, but can actually turn into a real positive.
For example, I studied medicine last year, and thought that it was okay until term 2. It was after the novelty of doing medicine wore off that I realised I didn’t really enjoy many of the subjects we were taught about. I kept going, kept studying, reading, writing etc. But with my heart only half in it. Half of me was stuck in the girl who had always been a straight A student and had to use her academic ability to earn a lot of money and ascertain the most prestigious degree in England. But the other half was beginning to realise that the life of stressful situations and constant testing of my ability was not suited to my personality. I am a worrier, a “stress-head”, an anxious individual quite naturally, and the stakes were too high for me to enjoy this degree or the job that lay ahead of it. So I completed the assignments and did the exams and came out with 81% overall in the year. This is a very good score, a 1st class honours. But it still wasn’t enough. At first this was gut wrenching, but not because I was so sad I wouldn’t be able to continue with the degree; because I was a straight A student who had never failed anything before. Worries of what I was going to tell my family consumed me at first and a few tears were shed. Until I took a breath and realised- relief had also flooded through me. I didn’t want to do medicine anymore. There was only one aspect of it that I had a very strong passion for and wanted to always learn more about- mental health…psychology.
My wonderful boyfriend spoke kind and reassuring words of comfort and love to me, whilst making sure not to influence my initial decision in any way. He kept me busy for most of that day, taking me into the city for charity shop trawls and dinner at a restaurant we had never been to before. I texted my mum and a few of my friends, hiding behind my phone slightly just to get the information out there as soon as I could. Everyone’s response included “I hope you’re okay!” as the main message, and that’s when I knew that these people didn’t care whether I passed or failed; they cared whether I was happy or not. That night my boyfriend and I excitedly got my laptop out and searched through every single course at one university. I knew that I wanted to follow a psychological route and so we narrowed it down and narrowed it down until I was able to email around to five or six universities that were a little closer to home than the last one, and apply for late entry to psychology courses. I am now studying psychology, closer to my boyfriend, my home friends and my family, and I am happier than ever. The degree interests me deeply and excites me at the thoughts of what I could do with this new knowledge.
Failure is not a bad thing, it is merely opportunistic, a chance to re-evaluate and reflect in order to improve your life. I might not make as much money as I thought I was going to when I complete this degree, but I am physically and mentally healthier, happier, more calm, and importantly more passionate. I am still going to help people, but with more passion and empathy and therefore help them with more intensity than I would have done after a 6 year medical degree.
Sending hugs, Kiayah xxx