To Fail or Not to Fail?

Failure is avoided by most, but acknowledging its purpose can give one success

October 20, 2019


Rachel Ker

Junior Talia Rim demonstrates her struggles as she works to figure out her mistakes on an assignment.

When one thinks about failing, he or she will automatically attribute this action to mean lacking success. And, with a lack of success comes a sense of stress, fear, embarrassment, anxiety, etc.


There is something about this particular word ‒ failure ‒ that has the ability to make any sane human shiver to their core. The reasoning behind such a reaction? Psychologists have hypothesized this as a human instinct; mankind seems to possess this propensity for only doing what is considered “right.” 


Yet, the irony of it all is that people focus so much upon striving for perfection that the well-known cliché, “Nobody is Perfect”, becomes a ghost of a statement. This fear of failure wraps its soul around the human mind so tightly that people forget that it is fine to “screw up” from time to time. Hence, most of the 7.7 billion humans on Earth need to be reminded.


Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019, was International Failure Day. Created in Finland, this holiday was made official about a decade ago in 2010 in honor of recognizing failure as part of the fight for success. But, 2019 marks the year the Tustin Unified School District acknowledges the significance of this day for the first time.


At first glance, this day can be seen as a deleterious stab at anyone’s self-esteem. But one must take a moment to push Pride aside and disacknowledge her presence. And upon further inspection, one will find that this day actually reflects a deeper meaning compared to what lies upon its surface. 


To put this hidden wisdom in terms that relate to the average high school teenager, it does well to address the topic of those haunting letters the educational system calls “grades.” Arnold O. Beckman High School is known for its straight-A students, which is why when that rare F appears front and center on a flimsy sheet of paper, the word failure starts blaring red and flashing caution signs in that student’s mind.  


Principal Donnie Rafter serves to address this perplexing effect.


“In the world, failure is looked upon as ‘I am a failure’ versus ‘I did fail. But I’m not a failure, this is a failure,’” Dr. Rafter said. “To me, failure is acknowledging that you have done something wrong and can do it better.”


The keyword is “this” and not “I”. It is vital that students understand the difference between failure as a person and failure in performance.


As a former math teacher at Woodbridge High School, Rafter uses his teaching experience to remind Beckman’s instructors and students that failure is not something to hide from. It is not a limit to one’s dreams.


“One of the things we have seen is that in order for kids to be creative, they have to be okay with failure,” Rafter said. “[Creativity] is an innovative process.”


To create something requires the courage to put oneself at risk of error. If one does not try and fail, one cannot succeed. This proceeds to reveal the true message behind Oct. 13: Failure is one step closer to success.


This is an important message, especially for students.


“I think International Failure Day is a way to recognize that in schools, when you learn, learning is not usually a nice, linear process,” Advanced Placement (AP) United States History teacher, Stephen McGill, said. “It is an ugly, messy experience. And, sometimes you fail along the way. But, you don’t have growth unless you are struggling.”


Junior Liyang Sun completes a race at the Junior National Championship in Los Angeles. (Photo Courtesy of Liyang Sun)

Varsity swimmer, junior Liyang Sun, knows first-hand how failure can feel like a painful slap across one’s face and how struggles can mentally drag one down. 


“When I was 13 years old, I was a bad swimmer,” Sun said. “Actually no, let’s face it. I wasn’t just bad, I was horrible. I could not make the All-Star team for two years, and it was really sad to watch all my friends make it.” 


Faced with discouraging results, the majority would most likely admit to failure at once. They would give up. Statistically speaking, studies show that 92 percent of humans do just that. They “fail” in life not just because they do not achieve their goals, but because they lack the perseverance to chase their dreams. What sets the eight percent apart is their ability to do the opposite.


Out of 100 people, Sun lands right among the top eight who handle this failure with a steel mind of determination and purpose to achieve one’s goals. 


“For the next two years, I persisted,” Sun said. “I began to train with a different group that had three-hour practices, which was an hour longer than usual. I even started going to the gym.”


There goes the saying, “Hard work pays off.” For Sun? This was no exception. 


“I made the national team that next year and broke a school record,” Sun said.


Whether an achievement like Sun’s occurs maybe today, tomorrow or in ten years, one must remember that failure is not something that ceases to exist even after one’s goals in life are satisfied. Every day is a process that tests the strength in one’s ability to improve. A strength that is hidden inside everyone. And it takes more than a simply key to unlock this growth. 


“If you are never failing, you are never stretching, you are never challenging, you are never growing,” Mr. McGill said.


And with that, one is never succeeding unless failure is accepted and conquered. 


Happy International Failure Day to all!


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