Failure is a mindset

Taylor Murray | The Chronicle

Merriam-Webster defines failure as a “lack of success” or “falling short”. The word obviously holds a negative connotation, and we have been taught that failure is indeed a negative thing.

Many teens, at Mason High School (MHS) and elsewhere, grew up being taught that they should avoid this so-called “failure” at all costs, that they should shoot for high grades, more money or a higher GPA.

I agree wholeheartedly that students should try their best in school, but I believe that every person’s “best” is different. Some students aim for As in their classes, but others might be extremely proud of a B. Additionally, each teen has different passions, goals and career paths in mind which can affect academic performance. Whereas one student might be hardwired for math or science and score well on all of their exams, another might grow up to be an artist – not in need of calculus lessons.

MHS chose to drop the traditional valedictorian program in 2019 in lieu of a Latin honors system used by colleges across America, which has three levels of honors – Summa Cum Laude, Magna Cum Laude, and Cum Laude. The goal of this was to lower the levels of competitiveness for the highest academic achievement, letting multiple students receive recognition.

High academic competition, as produced by the valedictorian program, can lead to excess stress, breakdowns and in extreme cases, suicide.

High school is meant to be a transitional period. It is a time when students can learn, dive deeper into the fields that interest them and try new experiences that they had been scared of before. It’s a time when they can build new relationships, some long-lasting and some doomed to fall out over petty drama. Being in high school is not a mark of all-knowingness, wisdom and experience – rather, we are bound to fail frequently.

We cannot be expected to succeed at everything we attempt blindly.

My color guard coach has a common phrase that she often brings up on a hot or rainy day when the team is losing morale and feeling less confident. She says that “guard is 99% mental”, which may sound strange since it is a very physical activity. She means to tell us that we only feel as though we have failed our day or exercise because our mind is not in the right place. Once we learn to smile through exhaustion and pain, our performances will improve, leaving us to feel overall better about ourselves.

This phrase became a sort of mantra for me, after hearing it multiple times a week. I came to realize that failure, too, is only a mindset. While some might see a low grade on a quiz and be ashamed or bummed out, others will see
it as an opportunity to learn more.

Students often are not quite sure what they are getting into when scheduling more rigorous classes. Many kids are forced to make a hard decision – do they keep this class and maybe drop a sport or activity to make time for the homework? Or do they drop the class, forsaking GPA points for peace of mind and time to do what they love outside of school?

Many will pick the first option, scared of being accused of quitting by their peers.

I have found that in many areas of my life, if I feel down or unsure of myself after making a mistake or receiving bad news, I often have to take a step back and assess myself. Once I calm down from an incident, I’m much more open to finding the silver lining in my situation.

Sometimes it feels as though there are many factors standing in the way of optimism. A quick pause is all that one needs to take a breath, figure out what is happening in their head, and switch to a more hopeful mindset. Students should put fear aside and adopt a new way of thinking, one that emphasizes mental health and finding their passion – whether it be academic, extracurricular or athletic.

After all, accepting “failure” is merely a mindset.