dealing with failure

(Maisie Plew/Emerald)

I can’t count the number of times I’ve given something my best and not quite measured up, or made a small mistake that ended up having serious consequences. Since coming to college I’ve already dealt with failure on a number of occasions, inside and outside of the classroom. Failure and making mistakes are a fact of life that everyone has to cope with, but it can be especially hard when you live on your own.

Being enrolled at UO puts a huge amount of stress on students because of all the time and money that is required. In high school, getting a bad grade or failing a test wasn’t all that bad, but with the amplified pressure of college, it can feel like the end of the world. For the most part, you don’t have your family to support you when you fail, and not everyone has large groups of supportive friends. Nothing sucks more than getting a bad grade and then walking back alone in the rain to your apartment.

Having close friends and family will always be the best way to cope with making mistakes, but because that isn’t always an option, it’s important to be able to motivate yourself and not get too down.

Keeping things in perspective is one of the most important parts of bouncing back from a loss. Everyone has made mistakes in their past, but moving forward is how you learn from them, and looking back on mistakes after moving on can show you how trivial they were. Having a good perspective on your mistakes is the best way to learn from them and move on as fast as possible.

When I find myself feeling especially bad about a performance in school or the many other areas of my life in which I fail, I find that it helps to think about times when I succeeded. For as many times as you have failed, you have probably succeeded even more times. Remembering that you have what it takes, or at least the resources to get there, always helps you bounce back. As cliche as it sounds, failing should only make you want to succeed more.

Thinking about the situation with logic and removing emotion can also help you get back in the game. If you ask yourself why you failed and actually take a close look at your decisions without letting how you feel get in the way, it will not only help you feel better but it will help you not fail the next time.

And, if all else fails, there are also a number of easier surface-level ways to cope with feeling disappointed like getting your favorite drink or food. Every time I get a bad grade back I get something to eat on my walk home just because I know it will help me not get too emotional when trying to reflect on why I failed.

I got the chance to send some questions to psychologist resident Chris Michaels, PhD, a counselor at UO. When I asked him how academic failure impacts mental health, he responded “...This is bi-directional, meaning one does not necessarily cause the other but that they influence one another. Academic difficulty often results in stress, and stress has a tendency to have global adverse effects on our health. Thus, it is possible for academic stress to be associated with a student's first experience of a mental health disorder or a worsening of an existing concern.”  

Dr. Michaels mentions that academic stress can be associated with a students initial mental health experiences which speaks to the importance of handling failure well. Academic failure is only a piece of the mental health puzzle, but in a university setting it can feel amplified.

I asked Dr. Michaels for advice on how to handle academic shortcomings, to which he replied “ My first suggestion would be to seek support from a trusted source. That could be a close friend, family member, an academic advisor, or a therapist...It is common for students, and all people really, to wait until a crisis to reach out for help.” Dr. Michaels response touches on my motivation for writing this article, raising awareness. So many people experience mental health issues but feel ashamed or alone in their struggles, when in reality most people are undergoing something similar. We all experience failure and uncertainty, and connecting with someone about those issues can remind you that you’re not alone.

Dr. Michaels last piece of advice was to use university resources. He said “...I do often wish students felt more confident in accessing on campus support resources. I often meet with students much further along in their difficulties and wish they had reached out sooner.” UO has so many resources and individuals like Dr. Michaels who are well equipped to help you through a tough time.

There are so many ways to turn failure into growth, and going to UO gives us access to even more. UO’s counseling center, academic advisors, and many clubs offer support for students dealing with failure. The most important part is reaching out and communicating with people if you need to. No one is alone at UO because we are all a part of the same community, and the best way to make yourself feel better any time you have a problem is to talk to someone about it.


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