As college students, we are constantly taught about the importance of setting goals. We are taught that the most successful people set goals and then go after them. We are taught that our goals must not only be intelligent, but also SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely). While goal setting is an important skill and a truly useful tool for everyday life, the way we are taught about goal setting has a singular flaw: we are taught to set goals so we can achieve them, not so we can fail at them.
That may seem like an odd concept; who would set a goal only to intend to fail at it? Obviously, no one desires to fail. But if we are talking about setting goals, shouldn’t we be prepared to deal with any and all outcomes, regardless of if they are positive or negative? Goal setting may be the key to success, but it’s important to accept the reality that failure does exist. However, accepting that failure is a possibility simply isn’t enough; we need to be taught how to deal with that failure so we are prepared.
In reality, the higher the goal we set, the more likely we are to fail. In classes ranging from finance to psychology, we learn about risk and reward. We learn that they have a positive correlation, meaning that as reward increases, so does risk. Statistically speaking, the risk of failure is a reality that we should readily be willing to accept. But rather than accepting the risk of failure, we tend to celebrate our successes and try to forget about our failures.
As a culture where we are so obsessed with presenting ourselves as perfect, it’s easy to understand why we ignore our failures as much as possible. Even if we do make our failures public, it’s usually the surface level ones. Like that time I called my dad crying because I couldn’t take the key out of my car’s ignition because my car was still in drive. Or that time I cried because I couldn’t figure out how to put gas in my car. Clearly, many of my surface level failures involve my car and crying, but that’s beside the point. The big failures, the ones that come from setting the highest goals, tend to be the ones that we keep to ourselves.
Big failures tend to make us feel defeated and small. They’re the ones where you don’t get your dream internship. Or the ones where you get your dream internship but then don’t get a job offer. They’re the ones that we don’t admit to because we don’t want people to feel sorry for us. So instead, we keep these failures to ourselves, because that seems easier in the long run than owning up to and accepting that fact that we didn’t achieve our goals.
In reality, what good does keeping those failures to ourselves do? Letting negative thoughts percolate in our minds only makes us feel worse about ourselves. Now, I’m not saying that owning up to our failures is an easy thing to do; however, it can be beneficial in the long run. Realistically, we all need time to dwell on our frustration and listen to Mr. Brightside on repeat (just me?), but then we need to move on; one of the best ways to do this is to share our failures with others. Talking about our failures helps us feel better about ourselves, move past and move on from our failures, and most importantly, reflect on the experiences. Learning from your mistakes teaches you so much more than learning from your successes ever could.
So set goals; set them as high as you can. But don’t listen to the inspirational poster you once saw in elementary school that said, “Shoot for the moon; even if you miss you’ll land among the stars”. You’re not always going to land among the stars; sometimes you’re going to fall all the way back down to the earth. And you know what? That’s okay. It’s actually great. Take your failure, share it with others, and grow from it. And if you’re lucky enough to fall among the stars, don’t dwell on your failure, but rather put your all into the opportunity you were given. You never know; the stars might end up being even better than the moon ever could be.
In hopes of helping you feel more comfortable talking about and thus learning from your failures, the Honors Program will be launching a new social media series called “Facing Failure”. This series will feature accounts of Honors students and professional staff members reflecting on their past failures, and talking about what these experiences taught them. We hope that by showing you how failure can eventually lead to a positive outcome, you will celebrate your failures just as you celebrate your successes, although perhaps in different ways and at different points in time. If you feel so compelled to share your failures with us, we encourage you to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Throughout your successes and your failures, remember that the Honors at Iowa community will always be there to support you.
Written by: Chloe Sekhran, Honors Student Admin and Blog Editor
Chloe is a senior from Saint Paul, Minnesota. She is double majoring in Marketing and Dance, and receiving a certificate in Event Planning. Despite her perfectionist tendencies, Chloe has grown to accept failures for what they are, and then move on from them. After much reflection, Chloe has decided that failure is just the world’s way of not letting you settle for anything less than you deserve. So celebrate all of your magnificent achievements, but don’t forget to face you failures should they arise; you never know what amazing opportunities may come from them.