A lot of college students spend way too much of their energy either struggling with the feeling of failure or the fear of failing. But why do we make it so hard on ourselves? According to the clinical social worker and counselor Kristel Sarmiento, students new to college “tend to ruminate over doubts of being good enough, the ability to succeed in their major and the inevitable comparison of themselves to their peers at school.” It sounds like a lot of pressure to put on someone all at once, right?
Dealing with a failure, or even two or three failures happens to everyone at some point. We know that picking yourself back up or even believing in yourself on a daily basis comes with its challenges. You might find yourself struggling with defeat and it gets hard to pick yourself back up.
Read on for reasons why and how you can bounce back.
Failure as a State of Mind
We seem to worry about doing enough or even the right thing when looking to others for perspective. “I felt like a failure because my future wasn’t set in stone,” said Jovanni Toussaint, a junior at Florida Atlantic University. “My path to adulthood was becoming all the more real every day now that I was out of high school, and it felt as if I hadn’t even taken my first steps.”
According to Sarmiento, low self-esteem plays a role in self-doubt and the habit of comparing ourselves to others. “When a person suffers from low self-esteem, they inevitably activate cognitive distortions, such as ‘I’m not good enough’, ‘he/she is better than me’, ‘I’ll never succeed in this major.’ These types of self-destructive thoughts, if left unattended, can lead to a feeling of inadequacy or feeling like a failure,” Sarmiento said.
Remember That We All Achieve at our Own Pace
Comparing ourselves to others seems like a common theme when analyzing why we feel like failures after barely scratching the surface of our lives. We all easily fall into the wormholes of Instagram and Facebook, and find reasons to feel disappointed with our own lives when everyone else seems to lead a much better life.
Before high school, Michael Martinez, junior at University of Central Florida, dealt with bullying at the private school he was attending. After being homeschooled for most of high school, he graduated with a low GPA and his only option was to attend a community college. “After my first week there, I happened to find the Instagram accounts of the people who used to bully me in middle school. They were happily celebrating the start of their lives at Harvard and Columbia. Seeing all those pictures made me feel like a pile of wasted potential,” Martinez said.
But oftentimes, ruminating on our shortcomings prevents us from noticing our own potential and just because someone looks like they have it all together on the outside doesn’t mean they actually do. “I believe that feelings of inferiority and feeling like a failure is attributed to how college students perceive the world around them. They may not realize that they guy/girl who they perceive as high-achieving and confident is actually just good at masking his inner struggles,” Sarmiento said.
However, not many students can imagine life without social media. In this case, we should remember that oftentimes our sense of failure can force us to make necessary changes and jumpstart our goals–don’t think of failure as a person, but as an event. “The only way I managed to cope was by making academic success my absolute highest priority,” Martinez said. “I somehow managed to channel that frustration into something positive for my future. Thankfully, it worked out for me and it allowed me to transfer to UCF and maintain a high GPA.”
Learning to Strive for your own Personal Happiness
So, what can we do about the fear of failing? Students everywhere experience symptoms of anxiety or depression due to worrisome thoughts about their future. During our time in college, we make difficult decisions and many students experience bouts of doubt when it comes to their major, what jobs interest them, and what their salary will look like. Anticipating failure can debilitate motivation and inhibit you from even trying.
“As an English major, I get a lot judgment from those who believe it to be a waste of time and money,” said Isabella Hardesty, a junior at the University of Central Florida. “There’s always those preconceived notions that all I’ll ever accomplish in life is becoming a teacher. When I’m faced with this dismissal, it makes me question myself and what I’m doing. I feel disheartened in all the work I’ve done. I think what’s the point if I can’t make a great salary like any business major would. I also feel like I might be contributing nothing to this world and that scares me. Doctors save lives and I write about dead authors and poets.” Sometimes we need to believe in ourselves even when others don’t.
Hardesty conquered this fear by remembering why she chose the English major in the first place: Because she feels passionate about it. “There’s nothing else I’d rather be doing or that would make me happier,” she said. “Every time I finish a project or get a scholarship or present at conferences, I feel accomplished and proud of what I do. All I want to do, whether it be academically or in general, is to strive for my own personal happiness.”
The Importance of Self-Reflection
Okay, okay, but how do we deal with these persistent feelings and worries? How do make peace with our uncertain futures and make the most of our potential?
If battling with yourself seems like a nightmare, it might help to go talk to a mental wellness counselor or therapist at your school. They can help you approach your next step in a healthy way; “What I attempt is to get students that are suffering from low self-esteem to see is their worth and learn new ways of reframing negative thought patterns,” Sarmiento said. “I help them find evidence in their lives that defy their automatic negative thoughts. I help them find ways of being kinder to themselves while they adjust to life as a college student.”
You can try many ways of putting these practices into play on your own. Journaling helps you get in touch with your feelings and goals on a daily basis. Talking to other people who feel similarly to you can add powerful insight and help you to discover that people go through the same things. Most importantly, taking control of your life and recognizing what you want and what you don’t will set you up for greater success. This involves analyzing your past choices, and asking yourself if they align with what you truly want. The path to success does not always have clear directions. As Robert Frost once said, “The only way out, is through.” The realization that our future lies in our hands can cause a lot of stress and uncertainty. The earlier we recognize what we want, the better we can take the necessary steps to get there.
Over half a dozen proverbs about failure exist for a reason: you can’t avoid it. We cannot expect to succeed and grow without experiencing failures along the way. When we were kids, we knew that falling off our bikes and trying again was part of the process. Now we set off to mount really, really big bikes that toss us in every direction. Nonetheless, we must continue to mount them over and again to make every failure worth it.