Have you ever had to deal with failure in your life? A setback that hit you hard and kept you busy for a long time? Like being rejected from your dream university, failing an important exam, or having made a far-reaching wrong decision?
I certainly do…
But before I tell you about my setbacks and give you my key learnings, let me briefly introduce myself.
My name is Ani, I am 27 years old and two months ago I graduated with a Master’s degree in Business Administration from a German university. In my last year of studies, I wrote a book with my professor about a research project we were working on and two weeks ago I started my dream job as a buyer for a global corporation. On my Instagram channel, @a.young.professional, I hope to motivate and inspire many young professionals as I’m taking them with me on my journey starting with writing my master’s thesis, graduating and now with starting my new job in business.
But my career path has not always been as straightforward as it sounds, and it has also been marked by a number of setbacks. I’d like to tell you about two of them today.
My first major setback was due to my own wrong decision and also to the unpredictability of life. After school, I initially decided not to go to Uni and instead did an in-company apprenticeship of 3 years. To say that this time was hard would be an understatement. Not only did I have to cope with a toxic work environment and deal with my own bad decision, but at the same time, I had to mourn the death of a very close family member. At 18 years old, I was not up to this rocky road. I was not yet good at dealing with setbacks and so it dragged me down for months until I was just going through my daily work routine like a ghost. It wasn’t until half a year before I graduated from this apprenticeship at the age of 21 that I found my ambition and fighting spirit again and fought my way back bit by bit. Looking back, I am grateful for this experience, as this time taught me many things and made me stronger. And the ambition and fighting spirit has never left me since.
However, before I share with you all of my learnings of this difficult time, let me first tell you about my second failure. I suffered my second and most instructive setback in the second semester of my bachelor’s degree. I had failed the same exam for the second time. Some might think now, ‘oh no, she failed an exam, how terrible, boo hoo’. But for me, my whole future was hanging by a thread. I had to take this exam for the third time and this was my last chance for this exam and to ever achieve my career aspirations. If I had failed it again, my studies would have been over and my career plan would have been thrown out the window. So my back was up against the wall and I was under extreme pressure.
Although, this experience changed me permanently and helped me become a more organized and successful student. I used this experience to my advantage and completely adjusted my study techniques and mindset. So, I studied for a whole semester for this third attempt. In addition, I studied for six more exams, applied for internships, and led a fitness group in my dorm. And all my efforts paid off. Not only was this my best semester to that point, but I had finally passed this exam. That’s when the phrase ‘diamonds are made under pressure’ truly applies.
How could I fight my way back from my setbacks? How could I cope with my failures – especially in the difficult initial period shortly after a setback? Looking back, there are 7 points that helped me get out of the deep hole I had maneuvered myself into. I have taken the following key learnings from these experiences and I apply them step by step ever since:
1.Accept your feelings – Allow your feelings of frustration, anger, or rage. It won’t get you anywhere trying to be indifferent to your defeat. It’s perfectly okay to feel bad right now. If it helps, you can write down your thoughts or talk to a friend or family member. For example, I started journaling and writing down what happened and how I felt about it. I wrote down all the findings of the process in a diary. But more about that later.
2.Don’t blame – Pay attention to how you talk to yourself. Avoid mentally putting yourself down or thinking/talking negatively about yourself. Thoughts like “I’m stupid/lazy/useless” won’t get you anywhere and will only eat away at your self-confidence. Also, avoid blaming others such as your professor (“The stupid professor only asked hard questions…”). Shift your focus to being able to speak and think objectively about the event. For example, “I underestimated the exam and didn’t study enough. Next time I’ll change my study strategy, so it won’t happen again.” or “I wasn’t accepted by my dream university because it wasn’t supposed to be my path. Life has so many other beautiful things for me to offer.” or “I started this apprenticeship and I don’t like it. But this time will teach me something and I will use it to grow and get stronger.”
3.Be patient – Give yourself time to be sad or angry and apply steps one and two. After a few days, you can look at things more objectively again. But give yourself as much time as you need. Depending on the severity of the setback, it’s perfectly fine to lick your wounds for longer. As soon as you feel ready, you can start with step four.
4.Look for causes – This one and the next one, are the two key points. Find out, what caused the exam to go badly. Think about your preparation (study strategy, time management, etc.), your reaction, the circumstances – just everything. Write down these causes in your new diary in as much detail as possible.
5.Your personal learnings – Based on the identified causes, you can now deduce what you can do better next time. It is so important that you learn your lesson from the event so that you can act better in the future. Write down very detailed strategies and learnings for your identified causes. How do you want to react differently and better in similar situations in the future? Write it all down. The more detailed the better. In your diary, there should now be an entry about how you feel at the moment (step one), an entry with possible causes (step four) and your personal key learnings from the event (step five).
6.Forgive yourself – It’s okay to make mistakes. It’s even great! It’s the only way to grow. Without mistakes there would be no success, so try to change your view on mistakes. You should not try to avoid mistakes, but see them as learning opportunities.
7.Get up again – Take advantage of the event and draw your motivation and energy from this experience. To do this you need to change your mindset: difficult times are there to make you stronger and to improve you. They will make you so much stronger if you see them as a lesson and use them to work on yourself. To do this, it is very important that you become aware of your experiences, write down your learnings and derive strategies on how to react differently in the future. Don’t give up or downplay your experience. Take it seriously and see it as an opportunity to realign yourself. Or do you think famous scientists invent things on the first try? No, they try so many times until it works and don’t bury their head in the sand. Whenever they fail, they learn their lesson and make adjustments or try new approaches until their invention works. The question is who do you want to be? Someone who gives up when life gets tough or someone who keeps trying until they succeed? If it helps you, you can also look at motivational posts on Pinterest or Instagram or subscribe to motivational channels and write down quotes in your journal that inspire and motivate you. Do whatever gives you the energy to get back on your feet.
I hope these tips help you look forward to the next time you have a major setback. I have acquired these tips over the years and they have made me stronger and more positive. I ended up passing my third exam, getting my bachelor’s degree, and then my master’s degree. In the process, I not only got better grade-wise, but I also became more confident and courageous. I learned from my mistakes and adapted my strategies.
I strongly believe that looking at failures and learning from these situations are the essential points that turn a mediocre student into an excellent student and person. And it’s not just about grades, it’s about changing your mindset from seeing mistakes and setbacks negatively to seeing them as opportunities to grow and become new and improved.
If you liked these tips, make sure to follow me on my Instagram channel @a.young.professional. I share many different kinds of tips and inspirational study/work content and I hope to see you there soon.