It’s okay to fail ’cause there’s no failure, you’re just informing the richness of your experience, and that’s – that’s the greatest gift you can possibly give yourself.
– Ben Foster
I don’t actually like the word fail because for me it brings up negative connotations so I love this quote because it focuses on encouraging people to view what they see as failure as a learning experience, part of our growth as human beings. I feel this message is particularly apt at the moment with lectures finished for Trimester One and students thinking about Trimester Two and beyond. Many of the conversations I have with students around this time of year are focused on making degree or subject changes and sometimes leaving university altogether. The topic of failure may come up in these talks as either a literal failure (failing courses) or because it’s linked to something having been a waste of time (‘I’ve realised I don’t actually like this subject/degree so all the courses/work I’ve done this Trimester are a waste of time’).
Now, if you are failing courses you need to be honest with yourself and ask ‘why?’. Are you putting in enough work? Do you understand what you need to do for the assessments? Do you know how to learn in a university setting? Do you like your courses? These can all have an impact and it’s important you find people to talk to – be it your lecturers, tutors, mentors or student support services like Student Learning, Disability Services and ourselves at Careers and Employment. Often we can become fixated on a particular path for whatever reason (family or friendship influences being a big one) and when we go off course it can be hard to accept that path may not have been the right one for us. This can then lead to the fear of not wanting something to have been a waste of time.
The fear of having wasted our time is something we can all grapple with. It’s closely linked to making decisions because when we feel like we have already wasted our time by making a ‘wrong’ decision we worry about making another wrong decision so we freeze and find it hard to make any decision at all. Rachel’s blog is worth a read if you are feeling like that.
I’m not a great philosopher (one subject at Uni that I subsequently learnt was not for me) but the thing about wasting time is you’re not actually wasting your time. I’m sure most of us see that with the benefit of hindsight but if you’re a stressed out university student who has a student loan and a few weeks to decide a new path I can fully understand you looking at me and going ‘seriously?’, especially if friends and classmates seem to be ‘sorted’. So, what should you do?
Well, in a purely practical sense it’s very possible that your courses will cross credit to another degree (at your current Uni or a different one) or contribute to the overall points you need for your current degree. Hurrah!
But what if nothing cross credits or you think you want to leave University completely? I always advocate people research a decision before making it but sometimes all the research in the world can’t make up for the actual experience – sometimes you just have to try it out. If you’ve subsequently learnt that a particular degree or subject or tertiary institution is not for you how can that have been a waste of time when it took you the experience of trying it out to realise that? Rather than seeing something as a waste of time or the wrong decision, look at it as one path you’ve explored. I think we can often devalue figuring out what isn’t right for us vs. what is right for us. After all, figuring out what isn’t right for us takes us a step closer to figuring out what is right. But here’s the thing about figuring out what is right – it changes. It changes through people we meet, classes we take, books we read, shows we watch, activities we do etc so our path in life is always going to be evolving. In today’s busy and demanding world with people wanting to know outcomes of a decision we’re not even sure about making, this can be confusing and frustrating. What’s key is making a decision or trying a path that feels right for us for now. Maybe that decision ends up being one that sticks for many years or maybe it will only stick for six months. It’s about being ok with that and not regretting a path we took because there is always value in what we learnt, even if it’s just to say ‘that’s not for me’. It’s not a failure or a waste of time; it’s growth, it’s learning, it’s skill development, it’s life.
For a more philosophical approach on this topic, have a read of the below links:
When You Feel Purposeless and Fear You’re Wasting Time
How to make big decisions that can change your life