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Doing Poorly at School? Failure Isn’t the End of the Road

For most of us, we’ve been told to get good grades and we’ll be successful in life. As a result, we become stressed when exams roll around. For some of us, we have failed exams and maybe even courses. Does failure at school mean we will also fail in life?

As someone currently in university, I feel the pressure of doing well. By well, I mean passing my remaining courses so I can graduate with the credits I need. Some people might think this is rather low standards but, for me, getting through all the courses will be a sense of accomplishment given what I experienced so far in life.

We must realize one thing in life: We aren’t perfect. We don’t even come close. Yet, we are holding these unrealistic expectations for ourselves, and these expectations create burdens we don’t need in life. If we aren’t good at one thing, that doesn’t necessarily mean we aren’t good at something else. Often, we just have to go and search out what that something is.

Failure isn’t the end of the road. Failures are usually the start of something new and incredible. Yet, our school life is structured in a way where failure is punished. What happens when we fail an exam? It affects our overall marks. It puts more pressure on us as we need to do better in other areas to pass a course. This pressure causes more stress, anxiety and possibly even depression.

I don’t know about other people, but I hardly retain much from my courses. I work very hard to do well on homework, labs, tutorials and exams. My goal is no longer learning things at a pace I am comfortable with. My goal is to do whatever is needed to do well in various aspects of the course so I get a satisfactory grade.

This is no different from a salesperson trying to meet a certain quota each month. We are so obsessed with a number at the end of the month or semester that we forget why we are doing something in the first place. I’m not “brilliant” so I can only choose to either learn and fail or perform what’s necessary and succeed. Am I really succeeding in life if I pass all my courses and obtain a piece of paper?

Some people might wonder why I’m still at school. If I have such negative opinion of my experience at university, then why am I still tolerating it? I cannot say how others feel, but I did gain something from coming to school. I, ironically, gained skills that aren’t taught in classrooms and developed a perspective not promoted at school.

Doing poorly at school hasn’t been a recent thing. I have been an underachiever for the last two or three years. I’m not proud of it, especially given I’m Asian and my parents have a lot of expectations regarding how I should excel in school. When things headed downhill, I searched for a way out. It began with making excuses and placing blame on others.

After all, who likes being an underachiever? Who wants to admit that they are the reason they’re failing in life? Then, I got hit by the truth when I least expected it. I was failing at school, but I certainly wasn’t failing in life. I was blessed because I got to learn this lesson the hard way early on. This lesson is what I want to share with others if given the chance.

School is only one of many standards of measuring people. It’s unfair to say that those who do poorly at school are stupid because, chances are, they aren’t. For this situation, I especially liked this quote.

Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid. – Albert Einstein

That’s exactly what we’re doing with our schools. It’s not diverse enough in its teachings to determine the strengths of the students. I cannot sit through long lectures or do well on exams. Yet, I don’t see myself as stupid. I just don’t have strengths to strive in a school. Since I discovered one thing I’m not good at, I’m a step closer to find something I am good at.

Doing Poorly at School? Failure Isn’t the End of the Road

Rick Chen

Rick Chen is a university student suffering from anxiety and depression. The many setbacks he had over the last few years taught him to look at life with a different perspective as he sought for answers to his problems. As a sufferer of mental illness, Rick wishes to play a greater role in fighting the mental illness stigma. Therefore, he started the website: Dealing with Anxiety and Negativity (DWAAN).

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APA Reference
Chen, R. (2018). Doing Poorly at School? Failure Isn’t the End of the Road. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 22 Nov 2017)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.