Coming out of my shell: Forgiving Failures

Discussing self-perception in the midst of personal hardships

Emily Xia

I look at the clock.

2:35 a.m.

How could I let this happen again? It seems like every morning I tell myself that I can sleep earlier and get more work done, but I get home, procrastinate and suddenly it’s 2:00 a.m., and I still have two classes’ worth of homework to do.

When I was in elementary and middle school, I would always pride myself on how proactive and responsible I was. I did well without much effort, completed all of my homework without a second thought and still managed to sleep before midnight. I thought that my work ethic was impeccable. Procrastination ––  I didn’t even know the meaning of the word. I genuinely enjoyed coming to school and learning. Even throughout freshman and sophomore year of high school, although work was slowly becoming more challenging, I still kept my spirits high.

Coming into junior year, I didn’t think much would change. I heard time and time again that junior year would be an uphill battle, that everyone went into junior year hopeful and came out a shell of their former selves, completely void of life and energy. I knew the workload would be tougher, but I trusted that because I was a good student, everything would still run smoothly. In fact, I was excited for the first day of school.

Things quickly went downhill. I started doing all of my homework the day before it was due. I no longer worked on homework due the next day during my free sixth period; rather, I worked on homework due the next period. I felt like I was floating through my classes — I would complete all the homework and assignments, but I never truly felt like I understood the material. Even my favorite classes became a burden, and I could feel myself becoming lazy. The more work I had, the less I wanted to do it.

Once I started falling behind, it was impossible to catch up.

Illustration by Emily Xia

I blamed all of this on myself. There was no one else I could pin my shortcomings on. There were other students taking harder classes, and they seemed to be fine. I hated that I was losing sleep. I hated that I couldn’t be productive. I hated that I was always on the verge of a mental breakdown.

But most of all, I hated that I had lost my passion.

My love of learning, my desire to meet new people, my motivation to work. Where did it all go? I could never measure up. I thought I was a complete failure.

A few days ago, I was talking to one of my friends, and she could immediately see that something was off.

“Is something wrong?”

I told her that I was drowning. Drowning because I had a lab due the next day, drowning because a quiz in calculus meant hours of studying concepts I couldn’t grasp, drowning because I wasn’t doing as well as I wanted in literature. Drowning because of how disorganized I’d become, how I had lost all of my motivation, how I was just tired of everything and hated myself for feeling that way.

Surprisingly, she completely understood how I felt. My friend who seemed so energetic and full of life, one of the smartest people I knew, told me that she knew exactly what I was feeling and that everyone went through it.

“I think you need to forgive yourself sometimes.”

I hadn’t realized it, but I had been putting myself down. I had to forgive myself. I had set unreasonably high standards for myself, and when I didn’t reach them, I pegged myself as a failure.

It’s extremely difficult to change your perception of yourself, to know that failing doesn’t make you a failure. Honestly, I haven’t even come close to doing it successfully.

I’m not trying to tell you to “have a growth mindset” or that “when there’s a will there’s a way.” As much as both of these are true, without experiencing hardship, it’s impossible to relate to these cliché phrases. I can’t even count how many times I’ve been pelted with inspirational jargon that I never truly believed in myself.

I’m simply saying that sometime or another, things are going to spin out of control — it’s natural. Work is already difficult enough on its own, and putting yourself down only makes it worse.

I’m still experiencing everything I mentioned earlier: the procrastination, the lack of motivation, the cluelessness. I know that I still have a ways to go and that it’s only going to get harder. If I’m going to continue, I have to start somewhere.

It’s okay to be a mess sometimes. I haven’t reached all my goals, but it’s okay. I’m hanging in there, and I’m giving it my all.

I forgive myself.