Society often views failure as a bad thing. As children, we hear about failure in the media and we witness its repercussions through our parents, role models, and overall surroundings. It is no lie that the idea of failure holds an extremely negative connotation, and at young ages children are made very well aware of this stigma. Society seems to only tell of the negatives of failure instead of its importance. Yes, I said it. Failure is important. It is crucial for the development and growth of any human. As a student, a bad test grade or low GPA may seem like the end of the world. However, if I’ve learned anything from my now eighteen and a half years of living, it is that failure is not truly a bad thing, but an opportunity for growth and a chance for a new beginning. As you read this, I want you to know something. I want you to know that you are not a number. You are not the F you got on your last math test. You are not your GPA or your ACT score. You are not the team that you didn’t make. Whatever your last “failure” is, you are not defined by it. Instead, you are defined by how you respond to said failure.
As humans, we are bred to strive for success. We are raised to have a brilliant thirst for victory and perfection. We want to make the team, we want to get an A on the test, and we want to win the championship. We want all of this, and we want it to be easy. However, triumph is not easily acquired; what many people don’t realize is that failure is crucial in the endeavor for success. Since I’ve brought this point up, I want you to ask yourself something: If I had not had my past failures, would I be the person I am today? When I ask myself this, a huge lit up billboard pops into my head with the word ‘NO’ sprawled out in blinding neon block letters. NO, NO, NO, NO, NO. I absolutely would not be the person that I am today without my failures, and let me tell you I have had quite a few.
As I said before, a person is not defined by his or her failure, but by how he or she responds. You may be wondering who I am and what right I have to be making such a statement. Well, let me tell you about myself. My name is Amy McNeel. I am eighteen years old, and I just finished my first year of college at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan. But, before I go into all the college stuff, let me rewind all the way back to elementary school.
In 2004, as a Kindergartener, I walked into Highlands Elementary School for the first time. That was the beginning of an extremely long six years, but that’s beside the point. When I was a second grader I started having to attend extra help reading and writing classes. I, along with a few classmates, met in a tiny corner room with a special reading teacher. I had to read aloud children’s books and spend an hour staring at a computer program that was somehow supposed to teach me how to write. This might not sound that bad, but let me tell you – it was awful. Try spending an hour every day for four years in a tiny room with no windows away from all your friends and regular classmates. If you ask me, that sounds more like a punishment than a help. By the time I was out of elementary school, I absolutely despised reading and writing. Over and over again I was told that I was not good enough; I was not at the level I was supposed to be. It turns out that those extra classes did not help me. Instead, they made me feel foolish, unintelligent, and plain dumb.
These feelings followed me and grew as I continued my education at Kennedy Junior High School. With middle school came in-class essays, and with in-class essays came stress and anxiety and a looming feeling of hopelessness. The prompts were dull and seemingly unimportant, and the structure taught produced superficial pieces of three-pronged boredom. At least that’s what I thought, and while other students wrote away, I spent my time trying to get everything perfect. I overthought ever sentence and every argument I was trying to make; by the end of the period I had three paragraphs done tops. Due to this, as a sixth grader, I was assigned 504 for extra time. This just added to my humiliation. I was separated from my classmates during standardized tests, and my essays were graded differently due to my 504 status. This was all supposed to help me, but what adults don’t realize is that these kinds of extra help do not always help, but hurt. I did not want to be treated differently and the “help” they provided me with only seemed to amplify my failures.
I was finally freed of my 504 status when I began my freshman year at Neuqua Valley High School. The first time I got to write about something that I was actually interested in was my Sophomore year. Our assignment was to pick a book, read the book, and then write an analysis. I choose Divergent, and was compelled from the very start. Divergent was the first book that I actually enjoyed reading. Divergent, a gateway book if you will, sparked a love for reading, and afterwards I actually started picking up books for fun. I found the analysis easy to write, and I also found that my writing was actually pretty good. I ended up getting the highest grade in the class, and after a few more writing assignments and a couple of in class essays my teacher approached me and stated that she wanted to recommend me for AP English 3. After pretty much being told my whole life that I was not good enough at writing, you can imagine my shock.
AP 3 provided me with validation. I had failed and failed but I had also persevered, constantly trying my hardest to prove to myself that I was smart, and to prove to those who told me differently that they were wrong. I had gotten into AP English, but I was not prepared for the failure to come. For lack of better words, AP English 3 kicked my ass. In the beginning, I got bad grade after bad grade and it was clear that I was nowhere even remotely close to the skill level of most of my classmates. However, it was also clear that I was the hardest working; I tried so hard to succeed, and I used my failures to learn. I took the criticism and with every essay I got better. By the end of the semester, I had grown so much as an intellectual. I had developed so much as a writer, and by the end I was a damn good one, too. On the last day of class, my teacher presented me with the Bravest Climber award, and I don’t think I could title my journey through that class any better way. I struggled and I failed, but I endured and I learned to love the thing that I once hated: writing.
Ever since Junior year, writing has been a passion of mine. I recently finished my first year at Grand Valley State University where I am double majoring in Communication Studies and Writing; after college I hope to go into publishing. 10 years ago I never would have believed that I could be a writing major, and I most definitely wouldn’t believe that I would want to go into publishing. I look back on my bad grades and extra classes, and I recognize them as failures. However, I also recognize them as progress. My failures motivated me to be the best that I could be, and from them I gained an extreme work ethic. I have succeeded in writing, and my failures make my success feel even sweeter.
Overall, I have felt what it is to fail, and I know for certain that failure is in my future – it’s just a part of life. As a society, it is time that we stop antagonizing failure and stop punishing ourselves and others for it. Instead, we need to teach people that failure is not always bad, but a way to learn and grow. Truly, failure is inevitable and people need to start making the best of it instead of letting it get the best of them. After 14 years of schooling, I am not my bad essay grades. I am not my extra help classes. I am not my 504 for extra time. Instead, I am my work ethic. I am my passion. I am my response to my failures.