Winning at Failing

Editor-in-Chief, Carnegie Communications

Jul   2015



What are you most afraid of? Some might say snakes or spiders. Others fear more intangible things, like heights or losing a loved one. Or maybe you’re like me, and your greatest fear is the F word: failure.

After all, so much can fall under that crappy “fear of failure” umbrella: You can fear failing at school or your job. You can fear failing to be a good friend or S.O. You can even fear failing at things like your health or hobbies. It’s the jack-of-all-fears! And a very common one.  

But what so many of us, uh, fail to realize is just how limiting a fear of failure really is.

Humans actually go to great lengths to avoid failure. But research shows that fostering an early acceptance of failure in children helps them lead happier, more fulfilling lives. They’re less afraid to try new things, because they grow up knowing that practically any “failure” is just a temporary setback and a problem to be solved. They learn they can achieve anything if they are committed to putting in the effort—they just need to try and try again.

And this is an important lesson, not only because failure is a necessary part of life, but because it’s a necessary part of success. One of the biggest factors that separates hugely successful people from, you know, the rest of us, is that they are able to push past failures. Lots of failures. I think of superstar actors who were told they would never make it and of today’s business leaders who tanked earlier companies. Had they given up after they "failed," they never would've gone on to become to movers and shakers we know today.

So, what does this have to do with you, oh student? Well, besides the sheer importance of learning that failure isn't the end of the line, when it comes to the college admission process, a fear of failure can easily spiral out of control.

You may be like many of your peers, terrified of—or perhaps already dealing with the fallout from—getting rejected from a certain college (or colleges). Now more than ever, it's important to find your peace with the notion of failure. The college search and application process is stressful enough without thinking that the entirety of your self-worth is wrapped up in one acceptance letter. It’s not. And it can be downright dangerous to think so.

It starts as stress, then shame, then maybe even depression. When you let that kind of anguish get to you, your mental and physical health can break down. All because we haven’t learned that failure, even a string of failures, is just another part of life.

Now, all this being said, being cool with failing doesn’t happen overnight. I certainly still struggle with my fear of failure. However, I think about failure differently now. When an idea isn’t as brilliant as I hoped or a joke is met with confused stares from my friends, I can remind myself that every failure is a learning experience and an obstacle to overcome. I mean, even this blog post could fail, with people thinking it’s useless drivel. Or perhaps no one ends up reading it all. I could literally be talking to myself right now. Hello, me!

But if you have read this far, here's the big takeaway: change the way you think about failure. Instead of being paralyzed by a fear of failure or wallowing in anguish when you think you've failed, think of it as a bump in the road to bigger and better things. Maybe even make a “failure résumé.” You won’t get far in life playing it safe, and risk always comes with a chance of failure. So embrace it. And if you do fail, brush your shoulders off and try again.

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About Jessica Tomer

Jessica Tomer

Jessica is the Editor-in-Chief at Carnegie Communications. She is responsible for developing and copyediting content for Private Colleges & Universities, Public Colleges & Universities, Graduate Colleges & Universities, American Colleges & Universities, and CollegeXpress magazines. Like many of her fellow Emerson College alumni, Jessica is a news junkie and true bookworm.

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