Failing Forward

March 7, 2023

| HealthyHeels

All of us receive feedback at some point in our academic lives that make us feel like a failure. Whether that’s an actual failing grade, a lower grade than we desired, mean-spirited academic feedback, or something else – these types of critiques can be tough to handle.

If we can reframe failure, it can serve as an opportunity to learn and inform future actions and decisions. Consider these ideas before generalizing that negative academic feedback into a feeling about yourself:

  • Grades are an instrument of an educational system that quantifies learning using a “standard” measurement for a widely diverse population of students, and grades require that learning happens in a certain amount of time. These are not essential values for educating nor learning.
  • Receiving a low grade or negative feedback happens at one moment in time. It does not change the past, nor predict the future.
  • “Failure” is not indicative of intelligence, know-how, or worth. In fact, all grades are only useful for characterizing your work on a single assignment or exam in a brief moment of your life.
  • A low grade doesn’t necessarily equate to the effort you put into an assignment, project or test…but it might (if this rubs you the wrong way, please be sure to read the next bullet point).
  • College courses are designed to take up a lot of time. If you’re stretched by life’s circumstances and challenges, a low grade is likely a sign that you’re investing time into something more important instead.
  • Receiving a low grade can feel like we’ve “wasted” our time and effort. Another choice is to explore what happened and to decide if making some changes are worth it.
  • Receiving a low grade can feel terrible. Feeling terrible does not mean that you are terrible.
  • Most people who receive a low grade also graduate.

Once you’ve reframed the situation, think about what happened. Look at the situation objectively and consider what you could have done differently. How can you improve moving forward? Who can you reach out to for help? This could include seeking out resources like those at the Learning Center, using TA or Professor office hours, or working with a study group.

Be kind to yourself. Feeling like a failure hurts, but remember that everyone fails at some point. Treat yourself with compassion and use this as a stepping stone to greater success.

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