How to move from failure – a piece of mind from someone who has walked this path

By: Fahad Alden, College of Fine Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences Well-being Leader

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From the young age of 8 until now, I have battled to overcome my hardest internal struggle of depression. After many years and therapy sessions, I can now feel like things have somewhat improved. However, I do find my depression often looming back to me in the same way as waves in the ocean often come out of nowhere and with great power.  I sometimes find it hard to predict and difficult to stop these sensations before they emerge, but I am proud of how far I’ve come in this journey. 

So, today, I decided to open my heart and soul and share my hardest failure with you- failing the MCAS.  I  hope that my experience will inspire you    to move from the failures you’ve faced so that you become a stronger, resilient individual. 

It feels inauthentic to me if I were to use my voice to only share stories of success – those in which I held positions  and triumphed through. My journey wasn’t smooth. Instead, my life has been filled with plenty of downs, failures, and shortcomings. So, there’s really no better way to begin my story than by sharing one from the very beginning.

I was at a young professionals’ event a couple years ago, and I was trying to mingle with others.  Even now, I can still  feel the discomfort of just staying there, completely frozen, not being able to utter a single word. All the others spoke about their reasons for choosing the colleges they attended and the many extra activities they participated in. Some were talking about being chess club presidents, while others were boasting about their success as valedictorian. 

Even though I am elected official and involved in student government , I never felt I belonged in those circles.  . Then they began discussing their MCAS scores. They started talking about whether or not the MCAS was necessary and began comparing their scores.  They turned to me, and asked what I got. To sayI was already not fitting in was understatement. I felt nervous sharing that I actually failed the MCAS.   Out of nowhere, my mind began to flash past memories, and I was transported back to the day I found out I failed . 

Overwhelmed with anxiety , I barely gathered enough strength to excuse myself and  lock myself  in the bathroom to cry. I thought to myself, do I even belong out there? I am nowhere as intelligent or sophisticated as them.I eventually collected myself by remembering what I learned from that experience and joined back in.

So, you must be wondering: how did I overcome this negative experience and turn it around? 

I was often a victim of the typical school bullies – those I am sure many of you encountered as well. Being also a victim of  physical abuse, I often used dissociation as an escape strategy. Let me paint a simple picture if you wonder how my dissociations worked: I created a world in my head where I was in the mountains, surrounded by a community of loving people and animals. It got me away from my current reality. 

 This all came with a cost, and as I got older, I  struggled to take control of it, oftentimes trying to force myself to come back to reality and finish my schoolwork .With my learning disability on top of the  dissociations, powering through was extremely challenging throughout school. Trying to control it at times often felt like i was aMatador taking hold of bull

Fast forward to the Math MCAS, what I thought was the biggest failure of my life. As I began the exam, the voice that had been quietly whispering to me all these years was now screaming loud inside my head. I struggled to focus. I felt panic slowly start to take over me, and I when I received the results, I couldn’t help but come face to face with my biggest fear: Failure.

 From that point on, my healing journey began, and I slowly uncovered my own  path  to overcoming failure.

  • Step 1: Healing

I’ve learned that the very first step to changing your mindset is allowing yourself to heal.  In order to do that, you need to let yourself feel every emotion – just as I did.    

Although I was quite young then, I allowed myself to feel everything because I knew I had to in order to move on. Whether that emotion was anger, sadness or desperation, I allowed myself to drown in all of it. 

I started writing in a journal and made sure that I put every feeling I felt down in words. I can assure you that once you start labelling your thoughts and emotions, no matter how devastating they are, you will be able to move past them. Hiding them won’t help – it will just push them down, and make it harder for you to overcome them. 

I also recommended sharing your feelings with a close friend or circle of people.  Sharing your concerns is better than keeping them concealed, as it’s the only way to experience revival. 

  • Step 2: Self-compassion

This means that you need to be kind to yourself. Remember that we’re all human-not some kind of machine that isn’t supposed to make mistakes. Maybe you talk these things through with a friend. Or maybe you try writing letters to yourself regarding the  failure you faced and the emotions that go along with it.Make sure that you write these to yourself as though you are writing to a friend.Think of how you would console your friend and what would you say to uplift them. This allows you to see the failure from a caring and nurturing perspective. 

When I make mistakes, I often think back to the quote that helps me pick myself up : “If you trip, does it mean that you cannot walk?” Ask yourself the same question next time you come across some hardship in your life, and let the answer inspire you to pick yourself up and move forward. 

  • Step 3: Learning

I get that it’s always easy to put the blame on others. I used to be filled with deep  jealousy of the other kids whose parents could afford to send them to tutoring . 

My parents weren’t really wealthy. In fact, they barely had money to make ends meet. My dad for the longest time had to  work three jobs just so we could live in Bedford. Life unfortunately is unfair, and becoming bitter makes you unable to enjoy the privileges that you do have.  

I decided to learn from this and changed the way I looked at school and life in general. I signed up for courses naturally, setting aside those in which I knew I would struggle.  I also began researching and working with my therapist to work on tools to help combat my issues. You are never able to decide what happens to you, but you have the responsibility to take measures to help yourself, not just for yourself but for others around you as well. 

  • Step 4: Acceptance

If you want to grow into a more resilient person, then you need to accept yourself as you are. People often fall into the trap of comparing themselves to others, wishing their lives looked more like theirs.. And this is probably the biggest mistake you can make. I used to belittle myself, feeling like I was not even close to the capacities of my friends who were successful students and entrepreneurs. But as I got older, I began to notice and accept my strengths, letting them guide my way through life. These are the things that make me authentic – for which I pride myself on today. 

Although I’ll probably never be able to play chess, do calculus,  be sophisticated enough to cut a steak correctly,or identify cashmere, that is fine. My strengths come out in storytelling and my ability to connect with people. 

I strongly  believe in using darker experiences of bullying, abuse and failure and translating them into good.  When I have taken my own experiences of abuse, bullying, or self loathing and turned them into a script, podcast episode or writing piece, I felt an element of release-A sense of being reborn and free . 

I challenge you to accept your experiences and share them. Whether they are in tangible forms such as writing or using it to extend empathy to someone else.

I now know that the words written in this blog are the things that make me authentic.. 

Remember, failure is inevitable. What matters is how you look at it – as a setback or as an opportunity for improvement. 

Writing this story of how to overcome failure wasn’t easy. Being an immigrant, I was taught to keep things to myself and be weary of what I tell others. But I decided to go for it- to help high school and college students like you learn that hardships are fleeting. 

So, learn from my experience and push yourself to become a better version of who you are today.

If this spoke to you, take some time to read through the rest of our blog – you might discover another story that speaks to you.