In life, we have a tendency to highlight our successes and hide our failures. If there is one lesson that I have truly embraced during my time at Emory, it is the notion that failure is an opportunity to learn and grow. More than the hours spent reading notes or attending lectures, I believe that the ability to accept failure is the greatest and most transferable skill one can develop in college. Growing up, I was so intensely afraid to fail that I often worked myself past the point of exhaustion, always striving for some measure of perfection that I could never really articulate and certainly never felt like I achieved. I would finish assignments weeks in advance. I would sacrifice time I could have spent hanging out with my friends so that I could study for one more exam or read one more chapter of a book. I would stay up late memorizing notes and wake up early to review those notes again. This fear of failure drove me to overachieve and overcompensate because I attached so much of my self worth and my value as a human to a number on a test or an award at a ceremony.
My first semester at Emory was the first time I ever really, truly failed. I took a statistics class and for the first time in my life, my best wasn’t enough to get me the grades I wanted. In that frustrating semester, I realized that sometimes we can try our hardest, give our greatest effort, and things still won’t go our way. I spent countless hours crying, worrying as my first exam and then my second exam failed to reflect the time and energy I dedicated to the class. In the final weeks of the class, I reached my lowest point and broke down crying in my bedroom. I felt an overwhelming sense of inadequacy, as if my inability to achieve my desired outcome was directly correlated to my intelligence and value as a student.
But, sometimes it is in those moments of extreme vulnerability that we embrace lessons that would otherwise fall on deaf ears. I vividly remember calling my mother for advice and what she said to me in that moment changed my entire notion of what it meant to succeed or fail. She asked me simply if there was anything more I could have done to change the outcome in front of me. If the answer is yes, then do that the next time. However, if the answer is no, then there is nothing more you can ask of yourself and you have to not only accept the results, but also be proud of all your efforts. When examined from that perspective, I realized that success isn’t always best measured by the numerical value on a test that you will never look at twice. Rather, success is measured by how much you learned, how hard you worked and what lessons you carry with you from each experience you have. When I changed my mindset and started approaching my academics, and my life generally, this way, I realized that the only kind of bad failure is that where you do not find an opportunity to learn.
Four years later, the lectures and readings of that class are a faint memory in my head. However, the ability to approach any situation and be completely content with any outcome, as long as I know I have given my very best effort, is an ever-present theme that I carry in my life. So, if there is one thing that my time at Emory has taught me, it is that the concept of failure is a relative notion that we should embrace and welcome. College, and life in general, will not always run smoothly, but the highs and the lows are where we have the most room to grow. I have learned through my own experiences, and with the help of my support system, that it is just as important to be motivated and proud of yourself at your lowest point as you are at your highest point. So I not only highlight, I celebrate my failures because I know that each failure encourages me to grow and ultimately, brings me one step closer to achieving everything that I want.
Roda Kesete is from Atlanta, Georgia by way of Asmera, Eritrea. During her time at Emory, she served as co-event chair of the Eritrean-Ethiopian Student Union, mentor for the Questbridge Scholars Program and the 1915 Scholars Program, a tutor for Emory reads, and served on the Political Science Advisory Council. After graduation, she will pursue a Master in Global Governance in Beijing, China as a Schwarzman Scholar before entering law school at Georgetown University.