Finding out that your hard work didn’t pay off is a terrible feeling – especially if you’ve put in the time & effort to allow for success. I’ve hesitated publishing this post since last year, but this feels like the right time.
I failed a second semester course in grad school. Many hours were spent studying for this class because it was my hardest. I knew my test scores didn’t quite measure up – let alone reflect how much I actually learned. Finals were coming up, and like a predictable movie everything hinged on the final. I missed the score by 2 points.
What followed was a terrible experience. I had to drop back a semester just to re-take this class. This meant that I wouldn’t graduate with my incoming class. It also meant I wouldn’t take the same classes they would; which means our schedules would differ and it would be harder to enjoy off-time with them as well. The next semester was incredibly difficult on an academic and internal basis. The class wasn’t any easier the second time, but I managed to pass (by 2 extra-credit points). I hear the class has been re-formatted since I graduated.
Looking back on this with years of hindsight I’ve realized that it truly meant nothing to me. In fact, the materials I learned from that particular class have been generally discarded – except for the basic framework of conceptual application. Today, I literally use less than 10% of the contents of that class. So, why am I re-living it?
Because it reminds me that all of us have the capability of perceiving little failures as the Himalayas – making mountains out of mole-hills. The real questions I should have asked myself:
A. Why did this fail? Not “why did I fail?” If you put in the time and effort for this to succeed, then you’ve positioned yourself to learn a great deal from this experience. Take the time to reflect on why IT failed, and what you would do differently the next time. Separate yourself from the event and give yourself the advice you would offer others.
B. Will this keep me from my long term vision? Usually the answer is NO. It’s been almost a decade since I failed that class; and today I am a much better clinician than ever. In fact, when I took my Boards I passed on the first try – many students with much better grades didn’t make it. If you don’t have a long term vision, then ask yourself: “where do I want to see myself in 5 years?” You’ll quickly realize that there are many ways to get there.
C. How could the failure have SAVED me?? Who’s to say that things would be better off today if I hadn’t stumbled on this hurdle? I may have never found my current interests. Which means I would not be where I am today – in the company of some incredible clinicians and individuals. In fact, one core components of that class is my bread & butter in the clinic today. I will always have room for improvement, but it’s nice to recognize the distance I’ve covered so far.
D. Why did you even try in the first place? There’s more to this than a simple PASS/FAIL Your profession requires you to jump a few hurdles before you reach the starting line. That’s right. Once you’ve finished graduate school, you’re now positioned in the sprinter’s stance with your professional track(s) awaiting discovery. Make it to the Starting Line. And, as you’re crouched down waiting for the gun, remember why you chose this track.
DPT students across the country just took the National Board Exam for Physical Therapy. Some of you made it through on the first try. Congrats!
To everyone else: can’t wait for you to join me on the track.