Vol 11, Issue 11
I was a Literature and Linguistics major. In first year, there were not many subjects to which I was naturally inclined. I could rattle on and on and on about Othello and Chaucer but I could not tell you what a mortgage was.
And then there was Constitutional Law: a subject which, though notoriously difficult, I completely fell in love with. I never skipped a class. I read diligently before every class. I went through all 100+ pages of WorkChoices. In short, it was a subject for which I felt a certain affinity.
And then I failed.
It was hilarious, really, the day I found out I failed. I was on vacation with my friends and had been checking my phone compulsively every single day since the last examination and when the number flashed before my eyes I was in complete and utter shock… that I passed 3 other subjects for all of which I tried half as hard as I did for Consti.
I could explain to you all the different judgments in Williams No. 2 but I couldn’t get myself over 50.
The sense of pride that you had when you entered the venerated gates of Melbourne Law School? Forget about it. That day, I went ice-skating with a friend in the hopes of distracting myself and hit my chin on the barrier of the rink.
I went home with a bruised ego and a bruised chin.
I thought I was above basing my self-worth on a number on an academic transcript until I saw the number itself. And then I got mad about all the wasted effort I put myself through just to receive a bad grade. I cried on the phone to a couple of friends. I posted self-deprecating Snapchats when I had to cut my vacation short to sit the supplementary exam. Two 8-hour take-home examinations later, I have emerged with a renewed sense of abandon regarding assessments.
The funny thing about failure is that it forces you to take a second to reevaluate whatever mental fortitude you think you have. When, in this process of reevaluation, the worst thing you could do is punish yourself for feeling like a failure over a set of numbers. Disappointment is as native to the human condition as happiness; having a punitive attitude towards your own experience is unnecessary.
Once you’re done evaluating yourself, you begin to consider what others may think. Perhaps you’re worried that others will deem you unintelligent. The truth is, they may very well do so. But the opinions of others are external. The beauty of things which are external is that you can elect to incorporate them into your consciousness. After all, they do not dictate what is to be printed onto your academic transcript moving forward. Whether or not you choose to be open about your failure, let them be.
Being hard on yourself probably means you will be hard on others for the same thing; asking yourself whether you will be this judgmental of others in the same position really puts things in perspective. There are many factors that can contribute to a fail grade, and analysing the impact of the grade rather than the factors that may have led you there is counterproductive to future progress.
Of course, the practical impact of failing a subject is that you will have to repeat it. You will have to sit in a class full of eager first-years and come face to face with all the decisions that have led you here twice a week. And you will inevitably be left behind by some of your peers. I have yet to be able to speak to this specific experience, but having failed a subject in one of the most results-driven academic courses of all life will imbue you with a unique mix of IDGAF, a natural empathy for peers of yours who may be struggling within the course, and a reminder to be easier on yourself — 49 is, notwithstanding our fertile imaginations and strong emotions towards it, just a number.
If all efforts to self-console fail, just remember this: if Obama could sleep at night at least once in 8 years as President of the United States, so can you.
If you are struggling with your studies, please speak to your friends, family and teachers, contact the MULSS E&SJ team (firstname.lastname@example.org) or visit http://mulss.com/equality/wellbeing for more information on wellbeing support.
Ayu is a second-year JD student and Equality and Social Justice Director of the Law Students’ Society.
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