Throughout High School and College, I was a grade A student. I can vividly remember the first time I got a B- in High School, and the shock and horror I experienced as I clutched that report card on my way home.
That night, my family sat me down so we could have a long talk about priorities and how I could better dedicate myself to my work.
I took that experience very seriously (far more seriously than my family expected me to, I'm sure), and can count on one hand the number of grades I got that weren't an “A” between that night and my senior year of college. Even my blood type is A+.
And then, my last semester in college, I failed a class.
At first, I was devastated. Then I was disheartened. And then… I realized it was all ok.
In J.K. Rowling's 2008 commencement address at Harvard University, she said the following,
[G]iven a Time Turner, I would tell my 21-year-old self that personal happiness lies in knowing that life is not a check-list of acquisition or achievement. Your qualifications, your CV, are not your life, though you will meet many people of my age and older who confuse the two. Life is difficult, and complicated, and beyond anyone’s total control, and the humility to know that will enable you to survive its vicissitudes.
In that speech (which I highly recommend you listen to), this best-selling author explains that she had to go through some intense failure to realize what humility meant and what was really important in life, including most notably the demise of a short-lived marriage.
My one “F” in Calculus 3 may pale in comparison, but after growing up in a culture focused on making sure that everyone is a winner, my failure was a little hard to handle.
Like J. K. Rowling, what I learned from failure seems simple, but has been incredibly influential in my life.
Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential.
Because I didn't allow that class to consume my life, I was able to volunteer enough with OCF to secure a job I'm passionate about upon graduation, and because I prioritized my blossoming romance with my long-time friend Rachel Loftin, I will be marrying her in less than two months.
Experiencing that (admittedly small) failure and realizing that I was still ok set me free in many ways because I developed a huge sense of security. I now know that the world won't explode or my life fall apart should I stumble and fall. I don't mean to imply that this was the first time I'd ever messed up, but this was the first time I really took it to heart and accepted the fact that I had failed.
Because I have experienced failure, I'm no longer afraid of it. This new-found confidence allows me to identify my goals and pursue them! I think the main lesson I learned by getting an “F” in college can best be summed up by this quote (emphasis mine),
You can do anything, but not everything. – David Allen
I was over-committed, and something had to go.
Question: When was the last time you experienced failure?