61%. I’ll always remember that number. It was the number hastily scratched in red ink on the last page of my very first university essay.
I certainly wasn’t the most incredible high school student to ever grace the face of the earth, but after realizing in my 11th year that grades do in fact matter, at graduation time I had become quite comfortable with my newfound mid-eighty average.
Naturally, then, when my TA plopped that 61% onto my desk at university, I was dumbfounded. In that deep, dark dungeon of a classroom in Vanier College (I’m sure it was a lovely room . . . that’s just how I remember it), a wave of panic came over me. How could this have happened? Is this what the rest of university was going to be like? Was it because I didn’t laugh at all the instructor’s jokes? These were the thoughts that rushed into my head.
As the course went on, however, I learned that more success was simply a matter of adapting to a new environment. Just as you come to understand what teachers in high school expect from you, you come to understand what it is that each professor in university requires of you. By the end of the semester, my marks once again matched those from the end of high school. They haven’t necessarily stayed there, but that’s beside the point.
There’s a reason I have shared this story. At the risk of sounding like a Tony Robbins seminar, whether it be grades, jobs, personal life or anything in between, dealing with tough times is impossible to avoid, especially in a setting like university. The more effectively you learn to handle these times of turbulence, the healthier and more successful you will be as a student.
Actually, you come to realize that failure is one of the most helpful things that can happen in your life. It’s an unmistakable sign that whatever you are doing is not working. Sure, it’s painful at first, but ultimately it will save you from getting crushed by worse defeat down the road.
Here are four things about failure I’ve learned in my four years of university:
A bad test or grade doesn’t mean you’re stupid. It just means something needs to change.
This could be doing those weekly readings, actually absorbing your teacher’s feedback on an assignment, going to class, asking your TA or professor for clarification, not pulling an all-nighter before the test and the like. It could also be things seemingly not related to school, such as waking up earlier, balancing your work, social and school life more effectively, getting more sleep, eating better, not starting a new Netflix series every night of the week . . . you get the picture.
Sometimes the issue may be more specific. Not even a star student jives equally well with every teaching style. As students we know that certain courses are required, but understanding how you learn, and that some teaching styles prove more challenging to you than others, can help you plan ahead, choose accordingly and make sure you have in place the assistance you need.
No one’s perfect, other than maybe DJ Khaled, but sometimes it takes only the simplest of changes to make a difference. Stepping back and figuring out what it is that needs to shift is the first and most important step.
For the sake of your sanity, associate your happiness not just with success at school, but with other parts of your life as well.
When you’re in university, particularly as you near graduation, it can be easy to lose sight of other aspects of your life. You obviously want to do well in school, but placing success at school as the only factor in deciding your happiness and self-worth can prove dangerous. New job? Connect with an old friend? Hit a new personal record at the gym? This is good! When you have other things to fall back on, one bad test or assignment won’t throw you off track so harshly.
(If you’re looking to perhaps get involved, a great way to connect with all kinds of different groups and people is YUConnect.)
Having an end goal is connected to this sense of perspective.
You may not totally enjoy the course you’re taking right now, but look at it not as a diabolical, year-long event from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, but instead as a stepping-stone to where you want to go after school. Maybe you’re not great at chemistry, but you dream of becoming a marine biologist. Use the the amount of happiness you derive from imagining yourself doing underwater backflips with dolphins as a means to get you through fourth-year chemistry, for example.
As difficult as it may be, talk about it.
I can’t tell you why, but something about vocalizing what’s on your mind seems to make it more manageable. It also helps if the person you’re talking to can relate to your situation, such as a classmate who just got back the same assignment. It may seem like innocent conversation on your walk home after class, but hearing that someone else is experiencing a similar issue can prove an incredibly powerful tool in dealing with your own challenges.
(Need a little more guidance? No matter what kind of trouble you are experiencing, school-related or not, you can always make your way over to York’s Counselling and Disability Services.)
University is a time of novelty, whether it be working and going to school at the same time, writing your first non-hamburger-style essay or living away from home for the first time. Naturally you will have to adjust. Speaking from personal experience, I’d say the majority of you will most likely experience a bump or two along the way, and, long story short, this post is for when that bump comes.
Have you found any particularly effective ways of dealing with tough times in your own life? Feel free to share below, or tweet us at @YorkUStudents.