Confronting Failure

This post was inspired by the handful of people who’ve reached out to me about their struggles to adapt to the new demands placed on them in a new academic year. I’m sure there are many others in the same boat. For most people the new year is just starting to take off. If you’re a pre-med/pre-health in general, you’re feeling pressure to perform well this year to stay competitive. If you’re a first year professional student, you’ve probably been hit by an 18-wheeler and just trying to pick up the pieces of your life. As a second year, the dark cloud of STEP1 or other board equivalents are starting to encroach, all the while you’re trying to hold leadership and get ready for the tests that are right in front of you. Every year brings on it’s own individual stresses, pressures, and challenges. But also more laughs and memories, deeper understanding, and further mastery of a craft. Each year is a new balancing act, and it can be hard in the beginning to get your footing just right–naturally.

We each give our own meaning to the word failure, but either way it goes it cuts deep, and many times we let it negatievly affect our attitude and actions following. We turn against ourselves, bashing all of the work we put in, interrogating inwardly in attempt to discover the root of the issue. You’re such an idiot is my personal favorite line for myself when I encounter failure. I used to ask myself where did I go wrong? Failure really is a tough pill to swallow, especially for people going into healthcare, as we’re held to a higher academic standard and everything is about being “competitive.” We’re conditioned to place so much of our value in our GPAs and when something threatens to tarnish that, it hurts.

In college I would call my dad when I didn’t do well on an test and he (in true Nigerian fashion) wouldn’t even sympathize with me or validate any of my feelings. He would ask Did you do your best? and once I said yes, he’d say, Then it’s ok, you can’t ask for more from yourself and you can’t change anything now. All you can do it learn and move on. Oddly, his stern message actually would make me feel better; I would feel almost stupid for beating myself up. His message never changed no matter how many times I called him, even in medical school. Of course, I’d also call my parents with good news too, so they knew my potential. With time, I’ve matured enough that I can have that conversation with myself. Every once in a while though, I’d convince myself that my best wasn’t enough, that I could have done more. I know there are other people who do the same. It is such a drain of energy living in the past and present at the same time. When I would tell my sister about it, she would tell me This isn’t the last time you’re going to get grades like that, you’re not always going to excel, so you shouldn’t spend your energy dwelling on it. It’s one test. My family is very straight-to-the-point if you haven’t figured lol.

But I got mentally tougher! And I’ll tell you what I learned that helped me cope with failure. We were not designed to succeed in everything we do. Otherwise we would never have mistakes to learn from, never have obstacles to make us stronger/wiser. It’s only scary because we don’t know when we’re going to fail. And there are many times when it feels like we simply can’t afford to fail. But God knows when we will prevail and when we will fall short. And He has planted people in our lives for us to turn to in either case. When I decided to put my trust in Him, the fear of failure began to wash away. I knew either way that I would be OK, because that is part of His promise to me. With each failure, we become mentally stronger, more resilient, more determined–if we choose to. We can choose to become consumed by our pitfalls or we can choose to thank God for them, learn from the experience, and become better students, clinicians, and leaders. It has taken a lot of growth for me to be able to say, “You gave it your all Ijeoma, you just weren’t meant to make an A this time. But you know what, you’re gonna bounce back and kill it next time.” I’ve become a better student student because of that. It’s all about your mentality, which you (and only you) have the power to control.

I hope this post inspires someone who feels like their school year got off on the wrong foot. I’ve definitely been there, and you are not alone!

When we tackle obstacles, we find hidden reserves of courage and resilience we did not know we had. And it is only when we are faced with failure do we realize that these resources were always there within us. We only need to find them and move on with our lives.” – A.P.J. Abdul Kalam


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