Well, it’s been 2 weeks since I did my first 50 Question Friday! Hopefully I’ll be better at doing these weekly, but we’ll see how that goes! 😉 A list of complete questions can be found here.
So, question number 2…Which is worse: Failing or never trying?
Without a doubt, never trying worse than failure. Failing hurts, but that pain eventually subsides. I find that it’s very rare to completely fail to the point where you’d never bounce back. However, that nagging feeling of never knowing whether or not you would have succeeded is something that can stay with you forever. For instance, when I was in seventh grade (or thereabouts) I tried out for a role in Little Women at our local theatre. I overcame my initial nervousness of public speaking, went to the audition, and the next night I got a call to come in and read over some lines again. Well, my nerves got to me, and I ended up not going to that callback because I didn’t want to fail and not get the part. At the time, I figured that a callback was “good enough.” I wouldn’t qualify this as a life altering disappointment, but if I remember the smallest details of not trying out for a play over 10 years ago, imagine the regret that can occur and persist concerning important life decisions.
Lately, I’ve been making a more earnest effort to not let the fear of failure get in my way, though admittedly the sting of failure (perceived or otherwise) can make it more difficult to get back in the saddle. Like I said during my last 50 Question Friday, I didn’t get in to graduate school this year. Stinging pain? Check. Bitterness? Check. Feelings of inadequacy? Check, check, and check. Immediately after hearing back from my last school, I decided that I would never take the chance of rejection from an admissions board again. Why set myself up for failure and embarrassment? I began looking at career paths that I knew I would succeed in with little to no effort, and I changed some of the goals I placed on my 101 in 1001 list so that no trace of my graduate school failings would be evident.
Thankfully, however, I have a really supportive husband and some great professors from Seattle Pacific who encouraged me to press on in my goal of earning a PhD. My husband told me that I would eventually come to regret giving up that quickly, and that he knew nothing short of a PhD was going to make me happy in the long run. My undergraduate mentor told me that all of her best students took at least two application cycles to get into graduate school, and my another professor pointed out that there are many extenuating circumstancing in each cycle that factor into decisions that are completely out of my control. He pointed out that many factors don’t even relate to my prior work or my test scores, and that sometimes schools simply don’t have enough slots or funding in a given year. Both professors provided me with great advice, including looking for lab work down here in Florida.
While getting back in the right frame of mind to reapply was a first great step, I had to set about creating an environment in which I could improve my application for the upcoming application cycle. Any other time, emailing a professor to ask to become a research assistant would be a piece of cake. After a grueling application cycle? Not so much. I was still feeling pretty losery-ish (not a word, I know!), so I put off talking to any professors about lab opportunities at the local university for about a week or so. Then one day I sat down and reminded myself that the worst they could say was no.
And you know what? She said no. Unfortunately, the professor I wanted to work with was in the process of packing up her lab to leave for a year long sabbatical. Ouch. I recognized that it was outside of my control and had absolutely nothing to do with me, but being told no still stings a bit. However, I was much quicker to rebound this time. That very same day I found another lab I wanted to join, emailed that researcher, and she said yes! Now, I have a lab to call home with research that I am super interested in, and a fantastic lab advisor to boot.
Now, had I not sent that email, I would not have been in a position to reapply to graduate school, and I would not have the chance to participate in research. I would have found myself at home, bored, with nothing but regrets about being too chicken to send out that email. I would hate to look back years from now and feel that I gave up too quickly on my dreams. If it turns out that I still don’t get into graduate school, I can move on knowing that I actually gave it all I had. I could actually move on without lasting regret.
“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.” – Paul Coelho, The Alchemist
“It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.” – Theodore Roosevelt
“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” – Robert F. Kennedy