Academic failure can be a painful thing to experience.
After all, our academic hopes and dreams are rarely ours alone.
When we are engaged in an academic program of study, it’s more than likely that others have expectations for us.
Our families. Our classmates. Not to mention our teachers.
Because of this, achieving less than we hoped for often comes with extra pain.
Not only did we disappoint ourselves. We disappointed others as well.
At least, that’s the story your fear will tell you. If you let it.
Dig a little deeper, and things aren’t what they seem.
Failing might well be the best thing that ever happened to you.
Follow these three simple steps, and academic failure can in fact become the launchpad to your future success.
Should You Adjust Course?
Failure is kind of a loaded term.
Everyone has personalized baggage when it comes to failure.
Also, just as one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, someone’s idea of failure is another’s idea of success.
So before we delve any deeper, what exactly do we mean by failure?
For the purposes of this article, failure can be defined as ‘performing at a level lower than hoped for’.
This could be either the academic results you attain, or the process that gets you to them.
So, either of the following could be considered a ‘failure’ for the purposes of this discussion:
- Getting a lower result than hoped for
- Failing to meet performance targets prior to the final outcome
No matter which type of failure you experience, you have a valuable chance to take stock.
The first thing to do after failing academically is to stop and ask yourself a single question:
“Do I need to adjust my aims going forward?”
There really is no universally correct answer.
However, everyone should stop and think it through, even if you feel fairly sure of the answer.
Sometimes you’ll be surprised.
After thinking through what’s occurred, you should reach one of the following two conclusions:
- I need to set a different goal moving forward
- My goal was correct, but I need to adjust my approach
Too often, people keep blindly pursuing the same aim after failing. Sometimes, failure acts as an indication that your efforts would be better applied elsewhere.
Other times, you will realize that the goal you failed to meet is still valid. It still serves your life more than other goals would. Instead of adjusting your goal, you need to adjust your approach.
Tony Robbins teaches that ‘there is no failure, only feedback’.
Often, experiencing failure can be the most useful thing that happens to us.
We might have an idea about what works and doesn’t work. A kind of hunch.
Definitive failure, however, removes any doubt. It’s concrete proof that the course of action you were taking didn’t get you to where you wanted to go.
So what are some actionable steps you can take to learn valuable lessons after experiencing academic failure?
- Where did the failure occur? To use an example, imagine you failed an exam paper. Can you get a breakdown of where you won and lost marks? If not, think back to which sections were more or less difficult than others. Use the nature of your failure to inform your plan for improvement.
- Speak to people who succeeded. Often, if we put aside our pride, asking for help is one of the best ways to bounce back from failure. Try and find out if others who succeeded did anything differently you can put to work in your own future efforts.
- Get third-party advice. Often, a course tutor will be able to help you out. Explain what you did and where you went wrong. They might have valuable pointers to help you get a better outcome next time. If not, ask someone you trust, such as a mentor, or even an online group or service such as Quora.
You shouldn’t see academic failure as the final chapter in a story. Rather, it’s a signpost indicating the route to your future success.
After you’ve used academic failure as a chance to consider whether you’re on the right course, and also sought out lessons to learn, it’s time to take action and set some targets.
Failing to set targets can make any positivity following failure theoretical. You might ‘reframe failure’ in the right way, but if it doesn’t lead to tangible action, what’s the point?
So what are some ways you can take action to move forward in a constructive way after academic failure?
- SMART goals. Let’s say, for example, you’ve decided that you didn’t put enough hours in previously, which led to failure. Setting a target of ‘working more hours’ isn’t precise enough to be useful. Instead, make it specific. You could set the goal of working ‘an hour earlier in the day, five days a week’, for example. This makes it specific and measurable.
- Give yourself a deadline. Imagine a scenario where you’ve failed an exam. After taking the time to consider adjusting course, you decide the right thing to do is give it another shot. Give yourself a deadline for passing it. For example, you might allow yourself a maximum of two more attempts, after which you move to a ‘plan b’.
- Slow and steady wins the race. It’s way better to make a smaller but sustainable change than a huge change which burns you out quickly. It can be tempting to take extreme action after academic failure. However, it’s unlikely to last. Be honest with yourself and set targets that will fit in with your lifestyle and your nature as a human being.
By taking the step of setting tangible targets, you allow yourself to move on from failure in a useful and constructive way.
You don’t dwell in the past. Instead, your eyes are set firmly on the future.
Thriving After Academic Failure – Final Thoughts
Thank you for taking the time to check out our ideas on academic failure.
Have you ever failed academically? If you have, we’d love to hear from you in the comments. What happened, and how did you deal with it?
What’s the best or worst way you’ve ever dealt with an academic setback?
Are there any academic situations you’d handle differently with the benefit of hindsight?
Let’s chat in the comments!