I failed one, once. It was, without doubt, one of the worst days of my life so far. It’s difficult to be bullied to the point where you only value yourself for your academic ability, before suddenly finding that you don’t even have that anymore.
I was seventeen at the time. I remember crying (a lot) and hiding in the school toilets for a whole afternoon because I didn’t know what else to do. I was the girl who just could and, suddenly, I just couldn’t.
You’re probably reading this and thinking, ‘Poor her; failing something once. How can she even talk about failure?’, but the truth is that I’ve failed at lots of things besides academic testing. I’m a previously failed friend, daughter, sister, tennis opponent, writer, job candidate as well as being a failed student. In desperately trying to hide the fact that I have failed, and therefore that I am a failure, I also tried to hide myself by disappearing. Sort of failing at life in the process.
People will tell you, if you fail something, that you mustn’t worry because it doesn’t define who you are. I think this is (for want of a stronger word because I know my Dad reads this) rubbish. If you fail an exam, it is completely part of who you are. I know that it changed my self-perception for a long time. I carried it with me like a shameful secret (and it was a shameful secret for a long time, because I didn’t want to tell other people, because I didn’t want it to define me). It is still part of who I am because it is part of my life. I can’t ignore it, or pretend it didn’t happen and the pressure of hiding it almost turned me inside-out.
So, actually, maybe I should let it define me. Maybe I should acknowledge that everything that has ever happened to me defines me. I become a sharper definition of myself every day because I have lived more life, had more experiences. Because I am the girl who failed, I am the girl who understands the gut wrenching bleurgh of other people who fail at something; I am the person who tries just that little bit too hard at exams because I can’t let it happen again and, most importantly, I know that, whatever happens, you can dust yourself off and start again.
What happened does still define me, but I don’t mind that. I worked hard to find the salvageable parts of it, and I tried hard to understand what it meant about me.
What I found is that the actual grade on a piece of paper actually doesn’t mean anything, really, about who I am, but that doesn’t meant that I should try my hardest to shrug off the grip of disappointment upon opening my results. When that happened, what I really wanted was somebody to tell me that they’d failed something too, and they were alright in the end. But they were mainly too busy not letting it define them by pretending it had never happened. What failure can give me is the opportunity to be that person – the one who’s failed and is still here, attempting to get on with whatever it is that I’m attempting to get on with. I can say that it will all be OK. And I can be proud of the fact that that is now part of what defines me.
Yes, I failed, but I got up and got on and that makes me a strong person.
What I’m trying to say is that you are allowed to let your failure define who you are, because everything does. You are allowed to feel the inevitable hurt that comes with failure (because even when people say they don’t care, they do).
What you must do is get up and keep going, because otherwise failure will be the only thing defining you, and you are so much more than that.