At this point in the semester, many of us find ourselves buried in midterm exams, projects and applications for internships, scholarships, jobs and summer programs. My experience is no exception. As we pursue these professional opportunities and strive to achieve high marks on exams and projects, it remains important to anticipate the possibility of failure.

Falling short in the attempt to achieve a goal, like getting a particular job or receiving a good grade on an assignment, presents us with two choices: A) sulk about it and move on to something else or B) use this failure as an opportunity to learn how to add value to a group without being in that role, or learn why our work on that project was insufficient and how we can find more success in our next attempt. The latter choice may be more difficult for most, as it requires us to be open to receiving criticism; however, it often is more rewarding in the long term.  

Learning to embrace the disappointment of not getting a promotion is a skill acquired after repeated failure. In order to move forward, it may be helpful to ask the following questions: “How can I add value to this business or organization?” “How can I still grow and challenge myself so that I can feel engaged with my job?” “Is the work that I do for this business or organization personally gratifying?”

The answers may not be immediately apparent, but if you are truly passionate about your work, the most important objective should be the projects you work on, rather than the job or position that you hold within a business or organization. For example, when I was denied the opportunity to join the executive board of the glee club that I’m a part of, I decided that instead of leaving the group, I could find other ways to contribute in spite of not holding the status that comes with being on the board. I am lucky to find myself among many members in the organization who have expressed a fondness for my ideas and an interest in collaborating with me on various projects. This decision of mine was purely driven by the desire to add value to something greater than myself, because I love what this organization stands for and believe in contributing toward its longevity.  

The same can be said when completing projects in a class for a grade. This past fall, I took a prerequisite class for declaring a major in communications and media studies called Communications 122 — Media Analysis: Concepts and Methods. In this class, I worked on a semester-long qualitative media research project that involved analyzing the manifestation of gender identities in two advertising campaigns: the “Dream Angels” campaign by Victoria’s Secret and the “Axe Angels” campaign by Axe.

I had worked with my GSI throughout the entire semester on crafting a unique argument, finding related research to compare to mine and pondering the suggestions of the findings of my research. I put hours of work into the project, and in spite of the tremendous time commitment, I found myself delighted with the work that I was doing because it was both interesting to me and relevant to a career interest of mine — advertising.

All aside, I ended up receiving a B on the project. I initially felt quite dissatisfied with that mark, because I believed my work and efforts warranted a higher mark. However, instead of choosing to take out my frustrations on my GSI or professor, I took it upon myself to consider the critique of my GSI on the final product. In doing so, I realized my shortcomings and where I could have analyzed the ads further and added nuance to my argument and conclusions, which would have consequently lead to a higher grade on the project.

Most importantly, I saw this as an opportunity to delve further into the concepts that I discussed and accomplish the most important goal of the educational aspect of college: to learn how to learn through asking questions and finding the answers on one’s own, as opposed to someone else offering an answer.

This brought me to a three-step process that allowed me to grow as a student. First, I enhanced my ability to learn and perform at a higher level in future research projects. Second, I grew by finding an understanding of what my shortcomings were and learning from them so my mistakes are not repeated in the future. Finally, I found that after reviewing my work and the suggestions of my GSI, I was more gratified by the work than I was before, because I learned more about the subject and about myself, particularly regarding my logical reasoning capabilities.

Failure can serve as an ending point, but it can also provide a beginning, a context in which you have the opportunity to create something special and be innovative and do something meaningful that has a tremendous impact on you personally or an organization that you are a part of. The choice is yours.

Zachary Cox can be reached at coxz@umich.edu.

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