I Failed, And Survived.

I am yet to find anyone who has never failed at least once in their lives. I know I have many times… at school, at a career, a job, even as a parent. It is inevitable; at some point, a decision we make will inevitably set off a chain of events that will result in the opposite outcome of what we set off to accomplish. We will probably go through the seven stages of grief as defined by
Kubler-Ross, going through denial, guilt, anger and bargaining, depression, the “upward turn”, reconstruction, and finally, acceptance. Basically, getting up from that fall will feel like a lifetime. And before you stop reading because you feel this is awfully depressing, I need you to first read this:

Failing might be the best thing that ever happens to you.

I went through a classic “identity crisis” in college. Towards the very end of my Junior year, I started to realize that I needed to make a decision on what my next steps would be. I knew I wanted to do something that would bring some form of peace or closure to people who had gone through some type of trauma, and because one of my majors was Criminal Justice, I assumed that graduate school for criminal justice or law school would be my best options (you can laugh, I am know conscious of the level of flawed thinking that went on). I should have known from that very moment that going to law school would be an awful mistake, but someone that I cared about at the time told me that I shouldn’t consider law school because it would be “too difficult”. Now, if you know me well enough, you’ll know that the second they said that, I became determined to prove them wrong. I went to the bookstore, bought every possible LSAT book there was, and I set off to study.

I had been an A student for most of my college career. Social sciences came easy to me; I was one of those people who loved those classes so much that my notebooks were color-coded, filled with highlighted notes, and I would very much enjoy studying for exams and writing papers (and I still do). But that first LSAT practice test… Oh. My. God. I had never done so poorly on a test in my life! My heart sank when I realized how many questions in the test I had gotten wrong that I was all but convinced I was right about. And it was all downhill from there. I was so discouraged that I started to skip studying days, and the days became weeks, months, and before I knew it, after putting it all off for the longest time, test day was upon me. I will save you from having to read the gruesome details of how awful test day was, and the embarrassing score I got.

However, someone told me I wouldn’t be able to handle law school, so none of this mattered, I was going to do it anyways.

At this point, my heart wasn’t in it anymore, but failure was not an option, so I needed to see this through. I applied to ONE law school that I knew I could get into, and I did. And the rest of the story is as cringe worthy as my LSAT score. I was commuting into NYC every day at 6:20am, not getting home until 7 or 8pm. There is this culture of competition in law school where you need to be part of the top 10% of your class because otherwise you will never get an internship or a job after graduation. While all of my friends were spending day and night studying, I could barely sit through a case introduction, let alone the whole caseload. I wasn’t studying, I was doing terribly in tests, and I was daydreaming through classes. My heart was so far gone from this goal, but my brain could not reconcile with the idea of failing.

At the end of the semester, I got my grades back from finals, and it was over. I have done terribly. I got the call from the school that my grades would not qualify me to continue the next semester (all Cs and C-s). I felt my whole chest breaking in half, my body started shaking, and my eyes exploded with tears…. And then, the stages of grief begun:

Denial: This is completely impossible! I am an A student and I have never failed at anything! They’re wrong!
Guilt: This is all my fault, I could have studied more, I just wasted all this money when I could have done so much better!
Anger: Who do they think they are? How can they just call it just like that rather than giving me another semester to do better? Why won’t they allow me to try again?
Depression: I can’t believe this is happening to me, I can’t stop crying
Upward turn: (a solid two weeks later) Ok, I can’t keep crying, something needs to change because the new semester is about to start and I need a plan.
Reconstruction: So, if the goal is to help people, I need to look at my options for careers that will both allow me to do that, but also help myself find a purpose.
Acceptance: obviously, law school wasn’t for me. On to the next!

The rest is history. I took a semester off to recompose myself; center my thoughts and plan out my next steps. I ended up applying to graduate school for Social Work at my alma mater, and just like that, my life started making sense again. I started to find that love for studying that I had before, and the grades reflected that. Interning was enjoyable, and I was feeling true love for what I was doing again. It took for me to struggle to find what I was meant to do with my life. It isn’t that I didn’t know what I wanted to do, because no one knows me better than I know myself (and that applies to everyone!), but because I knew myself, and I knew that I am the person that needs to prove something before giving up, even if it is going to hurt. So, this experience didn’t only prove me wrong, which is something that I needed, but it gave me space to grow and redefine myself; something that would have never happened if I had not failed.

Looking back, I can write a very long list with all the other times that I have failed in life, and could probably predict at least another twenty instances that may happen in my future. School, friendships, jobs, relationships. It sounds so clichĂ© when you say it out loud… “If I hadn’t failed, I wouldn’t be here” or the classic “everything happens for a reason”. I don’t like saying those things because they appear to minimize the struggle, and that’s not fair to us. Regardless of what the result may be, we cannot go through life without living through the lesson; feeling it, struggling through it, embracing it. There is nothing to learn when we just glide through, counting the minutes until it ends and hoping for the best result. When we truly live through it, we are able to capture every little nuance, which then allows us to learn from it. If we look back at the seven stages of grief, Kubler-Ross argues that you absolutely must go through each one in order to fully complete the process. In a way, she argues that there are no shortcuts in life, and that lessons are to be lived and not just learned. Yes, we need to live through the pain of failing and truly understand it so we can redefine it and grow from it. We are all in a constant state of change; our minds, hopes, and dreams, while they may stay within a same general idea, fluctuate through life. We grow, see and experience new things, and develop different needs. If we stay through life in a safe space, those needs won’t be met.

As a decade ends and a new one begins, my wish to you is that you embrace the change, take chances, and if you fail, you stand again and reframe that as an opportunity for growth. Because sometimes, when things fall apart, it’s so others can fall into place.


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