The Pressure of Failure

In one of my writing classes my professor gave the class the broad topic of failure and success. I embraced the topics and ran away with them.

Achieving success can control how people view themselves and their lives. But failure can affect how people view themselves as well. When individuals fail with a goal or task, society views them as a less capable person. We take our own failures to the deepest, darkest place in our heart and allow them eat us alive. Society views our failures and holds them against us without further consultation to how we failed. The society that I mention is the “common people” that we interact with every day. The common people are our peers, acquaintances, friends and bosses. As individuals we strive to be successful but we define ourselves through our failures. When we fail our self-esteem level sinks, because failure can be embarrassing to feel and admit to others. Since our successors have found success, we hold ourselves to the same expectation. Our failures should never define us, or anyone else for that matter. Failure by the common people’s standard is considered bad. If an individual has failed, then that must mean they lack skill and won’t ever amount to anything or gain success by different means. Others see failure as a character flaw and possible laziness. People measure ultimate success by monetary gain, amounting to the Wall Street executives, or having the highest ranked position in a career. Therefore they often seem to define themselves through their own academic failures rather than their achievements.

The year I was in tenth grade I had the pleasure of taking chemistry. My chemistry teacher had taught general chemistry and advanced chemistry for twenty years and taught part time at a Big 10 University. Mr. K was one of the best teachers at my high school. Little did I know that chemistry wasn’t going to be my strongest subject that year. Later in the school year I began to struggle with chemical equations, simple unit conversion, and moles with chemical combinations. The increased difficulty of chemistry began to wear on my self-perceived ability to master any subject. It seemed as though my peers were able to master the concepts in chemistry. As I studied, read our chemistry textbook and completed class assignments, my understanding of chemistry gradually slipped away. After a test that I nearly failed, only passing with a sixty-six percent, I knew that I needed extra help from my teacher and peers. My teacher was more than willing to help me after school, expressing his concern for my overall chemistry grade and understanding. So the long journey of receiving aid with chemistry began early November of that year.

With any goal that leads to success, I stumbled to meet my objectives. Almost every day after school I had help from my friends or my chemistry teacher. Through no fault of Mr. K, friends or myself, I hit a brick wall at a high velocity. I wanted so badly to learn what I didn’t understand. Science has always been one of my strengths. My frustration with myself and self-doubt seethed and ached within my soul. I was doing everything to propel myself further to my comprehension of chemistry! It felt like I was being punished for my lack of understanding. One day after school when Mr. K was tutoring me, I didn’t understand yet another chemistry subject. That was when I hit a breaking point. Finally, I broke down and cried. The tears came without warning, and my frustration, doubt and irritation spilled out. I wanted to just settle with a less than stellar grade and be done with chemistry.

However, my chemistry teacher knew that I wasn’t the kind of person who gave up that easily. Mr. K, told me to relax and take a day off from studying chemistry after school. “You’re putting too much pressure on yourself to learn the concepts with the same pace as your classmates.” His words allowed me to give myself permission to slow down and release the pressure of succeeding. Once the pressure to succeed was lifted, I began to understand the chemistry concepts. That day, Mr. K had revealed that he had failed his math class and his first two chemistry classes in his first year of college. Mr. K was the first person in his household to attend college. He said that his parents expected him to meet success the first year of his college career. His first year of college he almost lost his academic scholarship from the failed classes. My chemistry teacher shared that he felt the pressure to ace his classes without fail from the outside pressure from his family, peers and himself. Mr. K, one of the best teachers I’ve met, “failed miserably” his first year in college. But he didn’t let the failure define him or his career. The year I took chemistry, I learned that the pressure to succeed will influence how individuals perceive their own failures; and if they persevere past it to reach success.

Failure defines us because we do not see what we have learned from that specific mistake. It also defines us because society has made success without failure so important. It is difficult to express failure or a mistake without feeling inadequate as a person. Our mistakes seem so glaringly outstanding that anyone can see them from miles away. In reality, failing and making mistakes towards a goal is not the worst case. Instead, not learning from failure and mistakes is the ultimate disaster. The increased pressure that the “common people” of society put on others to proceed without mistakes is ludicrous. The pressure to perform perfectly allows the common fear of failure to seep into our minds and cloud judgment. This automatically sets people up towards failure. We put too much value on success. While sprinting towards our individual goals, we are bound to fail at one point. The high achievers people so often look up to don’t admit their failures while on the road to success. Pick anyone that is highly accomplished; whether that is a Wall Street executive, journalist or scientist. They failed at one point in their life. When individuals fail it means that they have taken risks. The pressure to achieve without mistakes shouldn’t outweigh the journey to success.

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