What Failing A Course 3 Times Teaches You

What failing a course 3 times will teach you.


That’s the sequence of letter grades I got in Calculus 2 while doing my undergrad at McGill. And the “A” should have an asterisk at the end of it based on what I just said, because the “A” didn’t come through McGill. I got it through the University of Manitoba’s distance ed course.

How do you detonate a GPA? FDFA! It’ll work every time! 😂

I took Cal 2 once in my first year, once in my fourth summer, once again in my fifth year, and finally, once during the sixth winter of my B.Sc. It was the only course I did in that entire year, after working 90-hour weeks in the fall for the University’s football team.

I went from being a full-time football slave to a full-time calculus student. You can call me crazy…NOW. It’s OK, I can handle it!

Is this an epic story of perseverance?

No, absolutely not.

I didn’t have to overcome any mind-blowing obstacle or disability to pass the course. The rest of my university transcript was, on the whole, OK. Not incredible, but OK.

The old adage of “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” is literally what I did (but throw in an additional “try” if you want to be accurate in my case!).

Try, try, try again. Thomas Edison needed 1000+ tries to successfully invent the light bulb. He’s got a famous quote that I love:

Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.

Thomas Edison

But I’m not about to go and reinforce this logic. I do believe in it, but I also believe in learning from “failed” attempts. No one should have to fail Calculus 2 three different times!

What was learned through all this failure?

Here are four things to take away from this experience now that I can look back on everything and giggle about it. It’s what I want you to take away from my setbacks. When you fail to this degree:

1. Attitude is probably an issue

What you think and how you feel about the task at hand is likely slowing you down. While I was busy failing calculus, I was also telling myself the following stories:

“I’m terrible at this subject. I was decent in high school but that’s where the buck stopped for me.”

“My prof is crap. He can’t teach a lick. His classes are so uninviting, it’s no wonder I’m not attending most of them.”

“This course is like trying to have an intimate relationship with someone you’re not physically attracted to. Impossible!!”

No wonder I struggled. My only focus was on the problems the course presented, as well as external factors like who was teaching it. At the end of the day, I didn’t accept responsibility for doing the work needed to pass, and it cost me big time.

2. You should question the path you’re on

If I were to go back to university and have my undergrad experience all over again, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t pursue science. Or if I did, it would be a more applied aspect of science like engineering. (Sure, kinesiology has applications, but as I learned after graduating, I wasn’t actually interested in any of them.)

Originally, I’d wanted to become a doctor. As it turned out, I didn’t actually have the desire and work ethic at 18 to really accept the grind that comes with going the medical route.

Failing a course this many times should encourage you to ask some deep, internal questions about where you’re headed in life. And while it’s not necessarily an automatic sign that you should pack it in and quit what you’re doing, it’s great chance to see if you truly love the journey you’re on. If you don’t love it, you can always change it.

3. There’s help you can get

During my failing streak, I basically did nothing to make up for the fact that I was struggling to keep up in class and on exams.

So many people struggle to admit that they could use some help. And that’s normal.

It’s normal to feel like your pride is going to take a hit by asking someone else to carry you along.

It’s OK that you feel embarrassed about admitting you’re stuck on something.

And it makes perfect sense that the anxiety you feel in deciding whether or not “it’s time” to get help keeps you from taking action and getting said help.

It’s OK. Just remember: it’s not serving you.

It’s holding you back. Back from moving forward. Back from your true potential. And back from creating the confidence that only comes from taking action and seeing small wins emerge as a result.

Take the action – get the help you need.

4. You’re building resilience

My friend Nate Saunders, who’s an elite basketball referee, spoke about how important failure can be in building resilience. I have to agree with him.

The silver lining in failing so many times to achieve something and finally coming out on top is that you’ve proven to yourself that you can finish a job. You can actually overcome adversity and find some form of success. You can deliver what you promised.

That’s really big, because we all love to avoid adversity from time-to-time. It’s comfortable and safe. It might keep us as part of the herd, where we’re surrounded by those who love and care for us.

However, avoiding adversity always hinders our growth. It keeps us playing small, which may be fine for a while, but rarely is what we ultimately want.

Bouncing back from failure is like sharpening your soul, as if it were a beautiful knife. It makes you better equipped and more confident to handle future challenges. It validates your belief in what you do.

Without failure, you can’t build the resilience you need to achieve your dreams. Failure is part of the pathway to success.

In short…

Failure can sting. It can really throw you off-course sometimes. But it also has its upsides.

It reveals how you’re showing up in the face of your big challenge.

It’ll make you re-evaluate the direction of your life, to confirm if you’re intended destinations are still where you want to go.

It can be a warning light on your life’s dashboard, telling you it’s time to seek help.

And it will help you become a confident force of nature that looks adversity right in the face, and proceeds to crush it like it ain’t no thing.

And that’s not a bad thing at all.

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