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By: Alex Killan

Between excitement, uncertainty and fear about the future, almost every undergraduate will experience massive moments of self-doubt, feelings of failure and fear. It happens at every level — the first years feel it as they transition into the world of post-secondary education, and the graduating students feel it as they approach the end of one chapter in their educational journeys.

Our fear of failure is paralyzing and it stops us from taking risks. We prefer to stay with things that we know we are good at, things that we understand and things that give us confidence and the opportunity for success. Our fear of failure stops us from trying new things, prevents growth and development and leads to the development of a narrow skill set. Yet, we often forget that significant success often comes from many attempts and many failures. Ultimately, by emphasizing linear and rapid professional success, society and its inhabitants have failed each other.

To this end, meritocracy, the idea that success is based on merit, is a blessing and a curse of our society. From a young age, we are told that if we are passionate enough, creative enough and determined enough, we will succeed. From this approach, it naturally follows that if you fail, you simply did not work hard enough. The responsibility of failure is placed on the individual and as such, the idea of meritocracy, if not examined critically, can be extremely toxic in the context of personal success and failure. Though hard work is an important factor to success, we need to acknowledge the role that context, luck and privilege play in success.

Planned happenstance, a theory of career planning, acknowledges that in many cases, success is not linear and logical; an individual’s career path can be altered by one opportunity or one new contact. Within this framework, failure can be a positive thing. For example, failing a course can indicate that subject may not be for you, and prompt you to explore another area. Getting fired may lead to another job that brings you greater fulfillment.

On social media platforms, we are constantly bombarded with the success of others. Accepting personal failure becomes difficult. Approaching failure as an opportunity for growth, reflection, and exploration is nearly impossible; we cannot capture it nicely in a photograph.

But really, what is success? Upon reflection, we realize that it is challenging to define. It is a deeply personal concept that we are not often encouraged to define. As such, we may spend significant positions of our life chasing something that we do not really want. No matter what your path to your personal success, accepting failure as an integral part of it is critical.

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