There’s a scar on my right knee the size of a quarter from when I fell on my walk home from the bus stop my sophomore year of high school.
I don’t remember why I fell, or feeling pain in that moment my knee slammed into the gravel road, but I do remember that I was already having a bad day.
I remember getting a quiz back in math and not doing so well and feeling down about it because what we were learning just wasn’t clicking. I remember stressing out the bus ride home, and not wanting to face my parents because like many Asian-American tiger parents, the common response to having a bad day is: “So? When I was younger I…” or something along the lines of telling me to suck it up, in a favor of pushing for success over a child’s well-being.
Of course I was bitter, and for a 15 year old girl, hearing the words “suck it up” really isn’t the sentence we want to hear in response to having a bad day. So I told no one I fell, or that I had to pick dirt and rocks of my wound on my bedroom floor, or that it got infected until eventually, the wound disappeared like it never existed.
But something I learned from getting that scar, and many future falls and failures is that what we choose to do with the anger, frustration, and those unhelpful words is entirely on us.
Failure is a necessity
In the words of the College Board Common App Essay prompt: “The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?”
When posed with the choice to select which prompt to tackle as I began the long, tiresome journey of applying to colleges, this was the one that struck me the most.
I was not a straight-A student. I skipped class throughout my freshman year of high school and I spent many, many nights wanting to give up. I wasn’t the best sister when my siblings needed me to defend them in our turbulent household, in fact, I ran away many times because I didn’t know what to do.
Call it the curse of being the older sibling, or maybe just the dramatics of a teenage girl, but for the first entire year of high school I felt already destined to fail. My grades were well below a 4.0 in my competitive high school district, and my mental health took a major toll to the point where I attended temporary off-campus schooling to get me back on my feet.
But I didn’t let that stop me. Because when I got home the problems were still there. The tension between us kids and our parents in my household still lingered, my grades were still in the C range, and my school, homework, and exams were still there.
So I was presented with a choice in that very moment that I didn’t even register as a monumental decision back then. A choice to decide WHO I was going to be in that moment: someone who gives up, or someone who starts building themselves back together from scratch.
I wasn’t a failure until I decided to be.
Your Choices are on You
So I started with my grades, and motivation.
In what I now deem an unlikely stroke of luck, I dislocated my kneecap the summer before HS and had an unfinished Young Adult novel I wrote during that bed-bound summer that I used as fuel to get my grades up.
Each finished chapter correlated with each exam, quiz, and essay I had to write. If I wanted add 20 pages to the book, then I couldn’t do until I finished studying and doing my homework.
I stopped sulking in my room and spent more time using the resources in my school, went to the library more, and spent more lunch periods doing work, rather than planning a new escape after school so I could stay out of my house.
I wasn’t a failure until I decided to be.
By junior year I was in four AP courses, and finished each course with straight A’s. I got a part-time job the second I got my license, and began saving up money to spend on myself for a healthy dosage of self-care.
I found a new passion for video content creation, thrifting, and journaling, which studies have shown to boost your emotional intelligence, self-confidence, in self-discipline.
Little by little I rebuilt my passions, my motivation, and most importantly – my goals.
Lessons for the Future
It’s been roughly five years since I’ve formed that scar on my knee, and every now and then I get flashbacks on just how unhappy and stuck I felt the day I patched myself up.
I learned for the better how to stand up for myself, and how to keep myself going despite what is thrown in my way. Now, as I enter my 20’s, I’ve interned anywhere from Fortune 500 companies to prepping to intern at the most valuable company in the world.
And what got me from being a C-roll freshman student to graduating with a weighted 4.7 GPA, chief editor of my high school newspaper, and my university’s dean’s list for four consecutive semesters – is grit.
Building up grit, tenacity, and an absolute no tolerance attitude for viewing my failures as just failures is what brought me to becoming the student I am today. By no means was it easy, and I’m still learning now how to balance my goals and not burning out, but I am a firm believer that every person can change their perspective and outcomes by viewing failure differently, and facing it with true grit will change you for the better.
Of course, it’s easier said than done, but it’s always helpful to know there’s other people other there who knows that feeling that your last fall might as well be your last, and that other people believe in you no matter how bad the tumble.
So whether you didn’t get into your dream school (because I didn’t), failed your test (been there, done that), or feel stuck in a cycle of feeling lost – just know you’re not alone, and that you’re not stuck, you’re just on your way.