Dealing with failure*

My first year in college wasn’t pretty, academically or socially.  For two quarters, i coasted on what i’d learned in high school – mostly via osmosis, as i’d rarely cracked a book during my secondary education.  As is often the case, it caught up with me by the end of my first year – and i failed Calculus III** – a required course for my chosen degree program.


Tucking my tail between my legs, i went back to The Park to report out to my parents – who funded my first year***.  Mom was “disappointed”, and told me that i’d need to “buckle down” and get to work.  Dad took a different approach.


Rooting around through some old papers, he located his undergraduate transcripts.  Handing them to me, he asked me if there was anything that jumped out at me.  He had a terrible freshman year – even failing “Strength of Materials”.  This was, in fact, the course that he was currently teaching as an evening class at a local university.  He also only had one “A” during his undergraduate career – and it was in “Hygiene”.


Rather than lecture me, he went on to talk about “why” his first year was so bad.  It was early in World War II, and he was planning to enlist at the end of his freshman year.  Knowing that his eyesight was horrible, the only thing he studied that year was an eye chart – figuring if he memorized it, he could make the cut.


Invariably, they changed the chart before he went in for his physical, he failed and he was not allowed to enlist.  Tucking his tail between his legs, he had to go back to his second year at the university and recover.  He successfully completed the engineering degree program****, and went on to a productive career – and a life with meaning and substance – never looking back on that one academic failure. 




* “failure” is likely to be a recurring theme for me as i conjure snapshots of my life.  i suppose everyone has to be good at something, and i seem to be good at dealing with fuck ups…  Go with your strenghts, right?


** But hey, i got an “A” in Psychology 101, a “B” in English composition and a “B” in Analytical Chemistry!


*** i moved in with my future husband halfway through my second year (at 19 years old).  From that point on, i declared myself financially independent, and didn’t accept additional parental financial support – although they were quite willing to help.


**** A remarkable achievement, my father was one of the extremely rare first-generation immigrants to go to college in that era.  Typically, this didn’t happen for another generation.  He spoke no English until he was 8 years old.  How did this happen?  His mother understood the value of education, told him he was brilliant every single day – rather than focus on their miserable economic status – and that he was expected to continue and complete his education.  So very sorry i never knew her…

17 thoughts on “Dealing with failure*

  1. Cool story daisyfae! I was a married father of two young ‘uns when I returned to University to study engineering. Although it had been six years since high school – so I was a bit rusty – I was motivated and I scraped through that first year with C’s and B’s.

    I’d have to say it’s a little bit interesting for me to note that the worst mark on my transcript was also in “Strength of Materials” (a C-); I hated that course and it wasn’t helped by the professor’s inability to speak clear English. (I know that sounds a little…..umm….bigoted, but that’s my story.)

    At this stage in my life I would have to say that apathy rules (kind of like Metallica’s Lars Ulrich’s Not-giving-a-fuck meter being as far into the red as it will go). I found myself having to be corrected for a slight calculation error the other day by a very junior engineer and my response, which would have been horror a few years ago, was pretty much “Meh”.

    What’s really key is paying attention and learning from the life lessons that are handed to us, eh?

  2. Did no work during the first 3 years – worked a bit in final year – got an Upper 2nd Degree, then did a postgrad teaching course and was then taken on as a member of staff for a year – don’t ask me! but bullshit comes to mind – tee hee

  3. Success is some weird propaganda. Nothing like the WWRaw smack down hand of life that leaves you face down in the dirt… must say I’ve learned some of my most interesting lessons with mud all over my face.

  4. Yeah. The universe has a weird sense of humour. But this I know to be true: if it’s worth having, it’s worth fighting for. And sometimes I need to be reminded that it’s not all easy to have.

    And Mands > life lessons are hard to come by in Rick’s Mud Wrestling Pool of Lurve. But you go, girl!

  5. “…declared myself financially independent…” I tried going the opposite route. Didn’t work – first my folks changed all the locks, then they moved. I still get a birthday card from time to time, though.

  6. Define success or failure, I dare ya! I also test well. Took part of my nursing boards 1 hr late after a traffic accident and it was my highest score. On the other hand, my hands broke out in hives from nerves.
    According to some of my siblings, I am a failure, although I contend I was no worse than mediocre. Actually, I am one of the 10% of nurses who have a Master’s degree in nursing. I survived 30 years as a nurse, most of it in nursing homes. I must have done something right, somewhere.

  7. tbk – Welcome to The Park! Flexibility is the key to survival for sure! Do you have a blog?

    rob – you are what Dad called an academic “plugger” – and the first type of engineer he’d hire given a chance! Said that the night school guys – the one’s with families, getting B’s & C’s – wanted it more than anyone else… i’ve found him to be right in that regard as well, and sure as hell look beyond GPA when making hiring recommendations!

    DP – Not Bullshit! But a gift for strategic, big-picture thinking and an unrivaled intuition for the heart of any challenge. Oh shit. That’s The Suit talking….

    az – i’ve found that going with my weaknesses is more fun, but much less productive!

    MdW – “face down in the dirt”. Been there. Got too many t-shirts…

    dolce – “Rick’s Mud Wrestling Pool of Lurve”? Is that on Sports Network or Lifetime – or some strange hybrid channel?

    kyknoord – i’m taking that approach with my sprouts. well, eventually. i keep forgetting to move because it’s, like, a lot of work…

    silverstar – great point! maybe if i hadn’t failed that course, i’d have never gotten the “wake up call” that turned things around? maybe i’d have started that bartending career just a little earlier than planned? but then again, perhaps that would have been the true success – a life of Freedom from Organizational Bullshit?

  8. every time i read something you’ve written about your father I am so aware of the love and admiration you had for him. he must have been so proud of you also daisyfae

  9. nm – he was the sort of man you wouldn’t look at twice if you passed him in the grocery store. incredibly average in all outward appearance. and this is what makes me always look twice at those who appear to be incredibly average… ‘hello in there’…

    afguy – “goddess” (sigh). you remembered! not a queen, nor a princess, but GODDESS… royalty comes and goes, but we are eternal!

    tbkent – i’ll stop by for more! your writing is earthy and honest – and it’s clear you have stories to tell! don’t know if you read awalkabout, but she has taught me a lot about autism – as well as writing!

  10. Oh, the stories I have to tell! Thanks for the compliment, as I strive to keep an honest, real voice in all I write. My overall goal is to “tell it like it is,” for better or worse!

    I will check out the link you mentioned and thanks for the heads-up.

  11. Daisyfae, you say the words…now believe them… to have failures, but still be able to “achieve a life with meaning and substance”… take that to your hunka-hunka-burnin’-love heart.

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