Feeling Like a Failure

Academics, societal pressures, expectations and work can all play a role in making you feel unsuccessful and hopeless.

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Please note that this piece comes from my personal perspective and experience and may not relate or be applied to every person.

I have always been a perfectionist of some sort. I always feel that the hobbies and talents that I invest myself in have to be perfected and worked on. One of these is my academics. I am not an athletic individual nor am I exceptionally talented at singing or dancing. Instead, I focus on my academics and broadening my knowledge and understanding of the world that we live in. It was for this reason why recent news about me failing an exam completely shocked me and impacted on my confidence of my abilities.

From the beginning of my education career, as a student of course, I was always focused on the idea that I had to get the highest results possible. I constantly pushed myself and felt that I was expected to be an A student all the time with no excuses. The first years of school were easy since it was mainly basic literacy and mathematicians. High school came around and I began to realise that I was not great at most subjects involving numbers such as Mathematics and Science. This annoyed me because a strange notion exists claiming that only students who receive the best results for Mathematics and Science are the most intelligent. Nevertheless, I continued to do my best in high school with these subjects despite finding it extremely frustrating and challenging to understand certain sections.

In addition to this, societal expectations and issues became more apparent to me when I went through the challenge of trying to accept my sexual orientation whilst studying in a heteronormative, conservative high school that had teachers and students who overtly and subliminally discriminated against many marginalized groups. This was difficult for myself and others. However, I was lucky because I was able to use outlets such as debating and public speaking to improve my confidence which consequently encouraged me to be who I am and express myself when I knew things were problematic.

This year, 2017, was my first year at university. It has been a very busy, stressful year trying to adjust to the new lifestyle and studying a degree such as Law is challenging because we have never been exposed to work like it before. I have been doing fairly well with all of my modules (subjects) despite facing a lot of challenges this year such as hate mail, dealing with injustices on campus and mental health issues. Regardless, I entered into the final exam period with full confidence of my abilities. I have never studied so hard in my entire life. In fact, I didn’t even feel like a human being anymore. All I had was my study material in front of me, my iTunes playing BTS, Nicki Minaj and Harry Styles, and a cup of coffee. By the end of the exams, I released a massive sigh of relief and came home, thinking that I had passed all of my exams.

However, a week and a half later, I was informed that I failed the most difficult, and yet most important, law exam. I was devastated. For the whole year I was doing very well in the subject and I honestly finished that exam feeling that I got an A. Clearly I didn’t. I was trying to process what I was told and my optimistic self completely lost it. I have never failed an exam or test before and as someone who always strives for excellence in my academics, this was a nightmare for me. I understand for others that failures aren’t as bad as people think but this news took its toll on me. I began to doubt my abilities and as a result, I stopped believing in myself. Despite this, at university, you have a 2nd opportunity to write the exam, so I decided that I needed to do whatever I can to pass the 2nd opportunity exam. Thus, I studied as much as I could for another week before writing again. (I am yet to receive the results).

Although this is just my story which I have briefly discussed, there are so many students out there today, in school, college and university, who are struggling with the stress and pressures of their educational institutions. I remember once posting on social media, “Your exam results do not define you,” and it received many responses. I was extremely saddened to see how many people expressed how they feel like failures and that they are not living up to the expectations of society, their family, friends, teachers etc. These expectations put extra pressure on students in environments that are already stressful enough to be difficult.

In all honesty, I believe that the education system needs to re-analysed, re-evaluated and re-structured. Most students are not overachievers that are great at every single subject. Some are better at art, some at maths, some at literature based subjects such as languages and history. It would be more beneficial to create a learning environment where students feel capable enough to cope with their work without having breakdowns. In a recent post for the Huffington Post, I spoke about the concerning statistics about the number of students who face mental health issues at universities and colleges. One of the primary causes is the academic pressure. It is definitely something that needs to be discussed.

Finally, on a personal level, I believe it is important to reiterate to all readers that failing a test, exam or anything in life is not the end of the world regardless of what people may say. I think one of the biggest fears we have is what individuals around us will say if they find out about us failing something. The truth of the matter is that 99% of them have failed something in their life and should not judge you for failing. Use your failures to learn and grow as a person. There will always be an opportunity to redeem yourself and get to the next stage that you are aiming for. Please take care of yourself and your mental health. When something becomes too overwhelming and emotionally draining, take a break and relax. Do not sacrifice your mental health for academic excellence.

At the end of the day, you are fully capable to achieve the dreams and goals that you have planned. There will always be obstacles and challenges in the way. It is how we deal with our failures which will determine our success at the end of the day. While I write this, I am motivating myself and I hope it will motivate and encourage you too. Don’t give up! You have got this and remember that you are not alone.

Written by

Luke Waltham is a BA Law Graduate. He is a BA Honours student and has been an activist for transformation, social justice and human rights. #BTSARMY

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