Life and Writing Advice is a blog series intended to help writers, editors, and freelancers learn from each other. Sometimes the most helpful information is knowing that we’re not alone in our experiences, that others can empathize with us, and that we can learn from others.
Once a month, we give a writer a prompt question. Then we post the writer’s response. Get ready to read about personal experiences that impacted or changed writers’ and freelancers’ lives. We hope this series connects people and provides inspiration. Let us know your thoughts about our series in the comments!
I’m a huge language nerd. I took my first foreign language class in middle school (Spanish), and pretty much all of my electives in high school were foreign language classes (German, Spanish, and French). When it came time to choose a major in college, I went with my favorite subject: German.
As a chronic overachiever and lifelong perfectionist, I thought nothing of loading my sophomore-year schedule down with German classes—it was my favorite subject! Plus, generals were so boring. What could go wrong?
Anyone who has taken higher-level language courses in college can tell you that taking four language classes at once is GPA suicide. Unfortunately, I had to learn this lesson the hard way.
A Tale of Two German Classes
As the semester progressed, it became harder and harder to keep up with my demanding class schedule. One class in particular was especially difficult—German 330, Cultural History of Germany. Beyond the fact that history has never been one of my favorite classes, 330 was taught entirely in German, and the tests were all essay questions—some of which also had to be answered in German.
As I fell more and more behind, it became clear that something had to give—and that something was German 330. On the brink of a complete breakdown, I decided to stop wasting energy on this class and instead focused all of my energy on bringing up my grades in my other classes.
In the end, I wound up failing German 330—the only class I’ve ever failed. As a perfectionist and former straight-A student, this was a bit traumatic, to say the least. And in addition to my wounded ego, I also lost my full-ride scholarship because of my low GPA that semester.
I tried to retake German 330 from the only other professor who taught it, but once again the workload for the class was too much to handle—this time I dropped the class before the add/drop deadline to avoid another hit on my GPA.
As failure often does, this forced me to take some time to re-evaluate and reassess my plans and priorities. German 330 was a required class to complete the German major—if I couldn’t pass it, I couldn’t graduate. And I had no clue what else I wanted to study or what career I would be good at.
While it wasn’t my original intention, I ended up taking a year and a half off of school. This break allowed me the opportunity to spend some time evaluating my options while also decompressing from the stress of school.
Eventually, I remembered that a few people had told me over the years that they thought I would enjoy linguistics. I researched the major, and the classes did all sound fascinating to me. The problem was that I wasn’t interested in any of the standard careers linguistics majors go into—particularly the ones that required master’s degrees or doctorates.
Conveniently, the linguistics major offered me the perfect solution. At the time, the program allowed students to opt out of higher-level linguistics classes. In their place, students could complete an approved minor. One option in particular caught my eye—editing. As they say, the rest is history.
Learning from Failure
So what did I learn from this experience? The biggest lesson was that failure isn’t the end of the world. Prior to this experience, I probably would have told you that failing a class and having to switch majors would be one of the worst things that could happen to me. But I survived—life went on, and things even worked out for the better. I found a major and a career that suited me far better than my original plans did, and I learned a lot about myself in the process.
This leads into the next major lesson I learned—what you think you want isn’t always what’s actually best for you (or what you’d be best at). I devoted years of my life to the goal of studying languages, without ever considering that there might be something else out there that I’d prefer or be better at—or both! Sometimes you have to be willing (or forced) to give other things a try in order to find out what you’re really good at.
The final major lesson I learned is that sometimes it’s okay to take a break. It can be hard to take some time for yourself when you feel like you should be out there doing something. But burnout is real, and not taking time for proper self-care can have long-term effects. The year and a half that I took off from school may have put me behind, but I needed the time to decompress and refocus. When I returned to school, I was better able to devote my time and energy to my classes because I had taken the time off that I needed.
My Plans for Moving Forward
I’m still a perfectionist, and I still find myself being forced to relearn these lessons on occasion. Failure still often seems like the worst thing in the world. I still get tunnel vision on goals that I feel like I “should” be working towards, at the expense of goals and activities that are actually a better use of my time.
I’m also still terrible at taking time for needed self-care. But I’m better than I was before, and each time I catch myself falling into the perfectionism cycle, it’s just a little bit easier to pull myself out.
This is my experience with learning from failure. Have you had a similar experience with failure? How has your perspective on failure changed after a difficult experience? Share your experiences with us on social media or in the comments below!