Perfection is impossible and failure is inevitable — students can learn this from older and wiser adults. “Failure” is an annual Community Reflection intended to remind students that failure is a normal part of life.
Community Reflections are a 40-minute time every Friday morning for students to think about larger life questions, and life’s meaning. Every year, Chaplain Liz Candido asks K College members to share their experiences with failure and what they have learned.
“Students were having a hard time being resilient in the face of what they perceived to be failure,” Candido said. “We, as older people, have done these things more than once in our lives. We saw failure as an inevitable stop along the road of where you want to be and that everybody does it, that it’s totally normal, and that it’s the way you learn who you are and how you get better in the world.”
This year, Ashley Knapp, Henry Lövgren K’20, Dr. Brittany Liu, and Siwook Hwang K’17 shared their stories and offered students advice on how to live with their perceived failures.
Candido introduced the speakers with a story from when she was a K student. In Hicks, a place called Quad Stop, which sold junk food, was where students could trade rejection letters for a milkshake — an attempt to normalize rejection.
Next, Knapp, a residential life area coordinator, shared her rejection story about a college RA position. Though she eventually got the position, the failure was devastating. Later on, Knapp got a dog, but figured out that he was from a puppy mill. Knapp had a hard time getting the dog to love her and she’d failed as a dog parent. From her experiences of failure, Knapp learned that, “you have to fail a lot before you can be successful.”
Then, Lövgren K’20 shared his disbelief when he received C-‘s and Cs in his winter quarter classes. Spring break was his turning point — during a train-observation session in Washington, D.C. He noticed that trains moved in different directions but eventually settled on a course and moved into the unknown. He realized that the trains represented his failures and triumphs, and later saw his experience reflecting in his spring quarter behaviors.
“There is no success without failure, as there cannot be good without bad,” Lövgren said. “Failures ensure victories, and victories after failures are greater because we know how far we have risen. I hope you too will learn to love your failures.”
Some failures happened in the recent past; others happened long ago; and others are happening right now. In preparing for her reflection story, Liu got make connections between her failures and the people around her.
“Life moves so fast that you have to quickly move on to the next thing, and you never really get to process [experiences of failure], debrief it or think about how you’ve either changed or what you would do differently,” Liu said.
During the reflection, Liu shared her experience of being stretched across many high-expectation roles: She is a parent, professor, researcher, spouse and psychology department member — but feels she can only do one role well at a time. A perfectionist herself, she understands students’ frustrations with failure and tells her introductory psychology students to say, “it won’t be perfect. It gets easier with practice.”
Liu sees students struggling to accept failure in her Introduction to Research Methods course. “I think they have a sense that it has to be perfect the first time around, or else it’s a failure,” Liu said. She believes K is a safe environment for students to experiment with failure, due to its staff and faculty who are there to support students through their experimentation.
The last speaker was Siwook Hwang K’17, a senior from South Korea, whose mentor told him that Hwang was afraid to make a jump for fear of falling — but if he did fall, he wouldn’t die. Because of this fear, Hwang was “hesitant to lift his feet.” A few years later Hwang was working on his summer SIP, and found himself near the edge of a bridge at 1 a.m.
“I was contemplating a very different type of jump that day,” Hwang said. “This jump would be the jump to certainty, finality, and maybe some peace. I wish I could say that night was a turning point. Instead, there was so much pain and suffering for myself and those whom I care about. I got better, and I got worse. In some sense, I did fall, and almost died. For some reason, I held on.”
It took time to heal, but time allows one to learn from an experience. Hwang realized that, “sometimes doing your best doesn’t really look like you’re doing your best. Sometimes trying doesn’t look too much like trying to you. Sometimes trying means spending all of your day sleeping. Sometimes trying means skipping your classes and laying out in the sun. And sometimes the best you can do is cry, and that’s okay.”
Hwang has advice for those who are struggling with failure and fear: “You will fall, and you will fall again and again, and it might even kill you,” Hwang said. “It might hurt those around you, which would be more painful than hurting yourself. But if you just held on with all the energy there, you might just get another chance to keep going. Holding on might look ugly and you might have to lose a piece of you, but you’ve got to hold on, and I promise you there will be those precious moments that make it all worth it.”