The Joys of Failure
Failure is something that everyone wants to avoid. Yet we all fail sometimes. One of the first quotes that I remember reading in school was, “Failures are the stepping stones to success.” However, it has never been easy for me to fail. And why would it be? I remained a star student all through my school and college, winning the gold medal during my exit from university. I got through scholarships and exams, excelled in extracurricular activities, held important posts.
In short, I had done it all—or so I thought. The problem was, I had gotten used to “success,” or what I thought success was. “I see myself on top of the world” was what I said at the farewell speech in school.
Well, things did not go as planned. I could not get through engineering school, but it was not that bad, because I got through one of the best colleges in the country for a degree in chemistry, a subject I love! A series of successes followed. I joined the Debating and Dramatics Society in college, became one of the star students of the class yet again, and given my flair for writing, also got through the editorial board for my college magazine. Here too, another feather was added to my already “heavy” hat—I was the youngest editor on board.
I exited college and then university with my head held high and an excellent job offer. However, having an academic inclination from the start, I decided to go on for higher studies, for a PhD. Yet again, success followed and I got through one of the best institutes for my field of study, outside my home country. There, the story begins. I had to quit the program within few months of joining. Intellectually, I was fit for the position, but I was in the right place at the wrong time. I was not prepared to handle the foreign land. Everything seemed too overwhelming: the people, food, weather, language—you name it. And I had to quit.
This was not the most difficult part. Insults from friends and family followed—even from a person very close to my heart: someone I had confided in, thinking he would understand. But he was the first to misunderstand. My best friends called me a loser and a coward, having given up on a golden opportunity just for emotional well-being. My family was angry, hurt, and dejected. I had gone from being the apple of their eyes to a social embarrassment—and everything happened overnight. How could their “star” daughter come back without a “trophy”?
Then the obvious followed, as in any other Indian family: the idea of getting married, if “nothing else.” And the special one in my life was not sure if he wanted to be with me anymore. All this, because I quit a PhD program.Broken, dejected, and disappointed are probably too small to describe my feelings. My heart ached to hear one word of support from the ones who I called my own. I begged for that one phone call from my special one. All I wanted was the same look of pride and love in the eyes of those that I still loved.
This episode taught me that somehow, maybe unknowingly even your own people associate their love with your success—and this is not done intentionally. It just happens.
I sprang to life within a few months and got through another program. Maybe success followed again. But this time, my head was not held high; rather, it was bowed down in gratitude. Gratitude to life for teaching me that nothing is permanent, neither my success nor my failure. Gratitude for teaching me that sometimes you have to wipe your own tears.
But the most important lesson that I learned was to quit. It is OK to quit sometimes. It is okay to cry, to give up, to listen to your heart, to care for your emotional well-being. Of course, one should try to finish what one starts. I did, too. But what is important is to let go when you feel like it. Yes, it is difficult; maybe no one will understand you, maybe some will. But if you think that letting go is what it takes to finally smile from within, you should.
Enjoy the joys of “failure.” I did.