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Forgoing a Fear of Failure

Sam Steinberg '16
On Veteran’s Day, Sgt. Colin Santacroce ’07 spoke to the whole Hopkins community about his time in school and the army. His speech was full with lessons about school and life in general, but what stuck with me most was his emphasis on learning to fail. 
 
Hopkins is filled with infinite opportunities to fail. I can remember my first time failing here, and like many other students, it took the shape of a bad grade on a quiz. But failure can be defined in many different ways, from the genuine letter grade “F” to simply letting oneself down. We all have different ways of reacting to the disappointment. 

Some people resort to placing blame: they tell their friends about how unfair the test was and maybe even argue with the teacher about grading tactics, ultimately to try to convince themselves that it wasn’t their fault.  

Some deny the reality: they glance at the back page of the test when the teacher hands it back, then shove it deep down in their backpacks and try not to think or talk about it again, as though it never happened. 

Others employ humor : they laugh about it, show it to friends and make fun of themselves for how badly it went, using humor to mask the true disappointment of failure. 

And, at some point, all students blame themselves: they ask themselves, their parents, maybe even their friends why they could not succeed, and convince themselves that they don’t have the capability of keeping up with their classmates at this school.

If it wasn’t a quiz or a test, perhaps it was a tryout.  There is the classic sports case: the freshman who spent their whole middle school playing a certain sport, they are the start of their out-of-school league, and they are cut from the Junior Varsity Hopkins team. 

There is the student who goes out of their comfort zone to audition for a musical or a play and does not receive a part.  There is the dedicated Student Council member who loses the race for class president.
 There is the rising senior who was hoping to become captain of their team or head of their club, and watched the position go to one of their friends. Hopkins is full of leadership spots, and unfortunately, not everyone applying will fill them.

However people deal with their bad grades, the fact of the matter is that they have failed, and it is not the last time they will do so. The most important thing to do is to learn from these experiences. Learn how you failed - what did it feel like, what did it really mean to you? Learn why you failed - maybe you procrastinated, studied wrong, or never understood the material to begin with. Learn how to accept your failure - don’t deny that it happened or blow it out of proportion, accept it for what it is. And learn how to avoid failure in the future - study differently, act sooner, try harder.

The failure that probably feels most relevant to the majority of the Senior Class, however, is not getting into their top-choice schools. Right now, they feel as though this is the ultimate test of their success during their time at Hopkins. Were all of those hours spent at Hopkins worth it? Should they have spent more time studying? Less time procrastinating? More time making friends? It can feel as though everything they have done amounts to this one moment, and if they don’t get into their top-choice, they have failed at high school in general. Of course, this is not true in the slightest. No report card, standardized test, letter of recommendation, or college interview could ever capture all of the amazing things they have accomplished and learned at Hopkins. Continuing to attend this school no matter how hard it was at times, to keep studying no matter how many times we failed, to keep putting themselves out of their comfort zones no matter how many times it did not succeed - these are successes in themselves. 

We have failed small things, and we will continue to do so, but we have learned how to grow from these small failures and ultimately, we will succeed. 
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