The Executive Corner

On Failure

SAITSA executive council portraits on campus in Calgary on Wednesday, April 6, 2016. (Mikaela MacKenzie/)

(Mikaela MacKenzie)

Connor Goodfellow
VP Student Life

“Mistakes are a fact of life. It is the response to the error that counts.” -Nikki Giovanni

Failure is important. We’ve all done it, and we will all continue to fail time and time again, until the end of the human race. 

Each time we fail it is an opportunity to learn, for ourselves and for others, laying the groundwork for how to avoid similar failures in the future. That is why it is a poor fool that lacks the ability to perceive or accept their own mistakes. They are stagnant, unable to improve themselves without a fault to fix.

After I failed engineering school, I resented everything. I had never dealt with failure on such a massive scale before. I was unable to handle it, and because of that, I began shuffling off the blame onto anyone and everyone around me. The school, the professors and the class sizes were to blame. The material wasn’t interesting enough. I didn’t have enough time and assignments were unreasonable. My living situation was to blame, my roommate and my social network too. I wasn’t confident enough to admit my own role in my failure, even to myself. 

I was in denial.

As a part of my conditional probationary reacceptance to university, I was required to take several specific courses. One of these was UNIV 205: Learning Practices – essentially learning how to learn. For whatever reason, this was highly criticized by my friends. They would hear about my courses for the semester and ask things like, “How useless is THAT class?” To be fair, I wouldn’t say I learned a lot in UNIV 205, but there were a few very important things. 

One focus of this course was metacognition and knowing about one’s self. We discussed the importance of understanding our own mental processes and how that knowledge can be used to more effectively motivate one’s self, take notes and study.

But being cognizant of one’s own self also means knowing your flaws and recognizing when you could have done more. This really resonated with me.

To entirely blame external factors devalues personal effort. Avoiding blame is not only pompous, but damaging in that it enforces the belief that you are subject entirely to the whims of other forces. This is an easy route to walk. Never do you have to deal with the worry of failure, the feeling that you’re not good enough, or the struggle of self-improvement. It is the bigger man or woman that can accept their wrongdoings and learn to grow from them. After all, we have no control over outside forces. We can only try to be the best that we can be. 

To give yourself agency over your own success and failure is not only a more gratifying way to experience success, it is a more fulfilling way to experience life as you identify your shortcomings and learn how to overcome them. This is how we become the best possible versions or ourselves: smarter, kinder and generally more effective. 

Mistakes are a fact of life. The first step is admitting you were wrong.

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