In my first week of university, I recall sitting in a lecture doubting my ability. My lecturer said, “Look to your left. Look to your right. By the end of your first semester, one of you won’t be here because you failed or quit”. Such inspiring words for an already nervous 19 year old!
I remember having serious doubts about my ability. Making notes as fast as I could, I was barely able to keep pace with the lecturers speed. All the while, I was thinking to myself, “Am I the one who is destined to fail or quit?”
Belief, not ability
Here’s a little known secret that got me through. Most of those who left did not fail. They quit. This is no judgement of their decision… I know I have had to quit a few things too, when they did not feel right. My point is; very few people got out because of their ability. Most quit because of their belief about their ability.
You don’t have to be born brilliant
Although I struggled to believe in myself and sometimes still do, I am often reminded of something my Mother said about success. “You know, it’s 1 percent brains and 99 percent hard work”. In other words, not everyone is born smart. I was reminded of that when my brother bought me a book called, “You Don’t Have to Be Born Brilliant” (we can laugh about it now).
Hard work turned around my failure
Okay, I actually loved the book. Let’s be honest… I was no genius. In fact, I was failing every maths test back in year 10 at high school. Indeed, you don’t have to be born brilliant. Leaning on what I learned from that book and dozens of other motivational books and stories, including works from Tony Robbins and Robert Kiyosaki, I picked myself up.
The Dummies guide to passing stuff
Even though I wanted a sign writing apprenticeship at the time, none were available. So, I decided to knuckle down, buy myself some Excel guides (sort of like a Dummies guide to the Higher School Certificate) and study my butt off. Mum was the first in my family to go through university and she did that later in her life, so she was my example to keep going. Mum, who was always modest but achieved so much, told me she doubted her own ability at times.
Welcome to statistics 101 (yuk!)
Looking back, year 10 maths was a walk in the park. Many years later, I studied entry level accounting subjects, which I was okay with. Then, they threw statistics and market research at us. Page or multi-page long scientific formulas we had to calculate a step at a time. I was genuinely afraid I would fail because I don’t think I really understood it ever.
Our final test
On the day of our final test, someone I consider an academic began firing questions at me about what I wrote as the answer for each question. I did not want to talk about it because what was done, was done. From what I heard that day, I went home feeling down. I worked hard on that subject and even if I had a chance to repeat, I couldn’t understand how I would apply myself any more than I already had.
Half the class failed
When the results were released, more than half the class failed (maybe not exactly half -remember, I’m terrible at maths). That included my academic friend, who lectured me about the numerous questions I answered wrongly. I was one of the very few who was awarded a credit for that class. I feel like I deserved that credit, as very little of that achievement was due to my natural ability. 99 percent of it (now again, I’m not a mathematician) was study, aka my hard work.
Stop self selecting
I could rattle off example after example or people who self selected out in situations because they did not believe in their ability. All of us have a tendency to feel like we’re not good enough at times. If we quit before the final grades are awarded, we reason, perhaps that means we did not fail. Nonsense. I would rather fail over and over, than die wondering if I could do it. Worse still, what if I died wondering if I had the stomach to fight when the odds seemed to be against me?
Grit and determination
Grit your teeth and get in the fight. Life is not just a pass or fail mark. Life is a journey and the final grade in any test is just a point in time. Every failure teaches you something about the subject. Most importantly, failure teaches you something about yourself. Have you ever seen a race, where a runner is coming last and has no chance of getting a place? Or someone falls flat on their face? If they have the heart to get back up and finish the race, others will carry them. Spectators cheer them on. Deep down we know the humiliation of failure but we also admire the courage it takes to try again.