Don’t be afraid to fail
Neil Joseph | Tuesday, January 19, 2016
About a year ago, I was in an incredibly different place than where I am right now — quite literally (I’m in London now, I was in South Bend then). But also in incredibly more ways. In January 2015, my last few years at Notre Dame were going to be defined by one day, as I decided to run for student body president. It was an incredibly difficult decision for me and my running mate because we both knew what it meant. Our college lives were literally at a standstill for the first month of 2015; we couldn’t plan anything for the entire next year until the election was over. It was going to be a tiring few weeks of campaigning, and most people all around campus were going to see our faces and like or hate us. Quite simply, we both also knew that we could fail. And we did.
I can’t say failing was easy. Because it wasn’t. Losing the election last year was probably one of the most difficult things I have ever experienced. It may sound petty, and it may because I have a large ego (I do, ask any of my friends). But pouring your heart into something for weeks and then losing in such a public way isn’t easy. And it was harder for me than most people around me even realized. I had dreamed, I had wanted it, but I failed. To pile onto that, I had no clue what my future held. What was I going to do? I couldn’t have ever thought of losing, and now I didn’t know what my last two years at Notre Dame were going to be. I regretted even running, because I was so far behind in planning for my summer, for my next few years. But most of all, I regretted it because I hated, more than anything, failing.
As Notre Dame students, we all undeniably have this same aversion to failure. We were all overachieving and successful students in high school, and we have all continued that at Notre Dame. None of us fail often, and most of us avoid it at all costs. No one wants to fail. And sometimes, that means avoiding things that might challenge us or put us at risk of failure. And I wanted to do that, but I didn’t. I couldn’t bring myself to avoid something I was so passionate about because it may not have worked out. But when I lost, I instantly regretted doing that. I regretted it for days, months even. It would have been so much easier if I hadn’t run, hadn’t lost, hadn’t failed.
People kept telling me that things would work out in the long run. Quite simply, however, I just didn’t care. I didn’t care if things would work out in the long run, because I wanted them to work out in the past. But I knew they were right. It may sound cheesy (and predictable), but losing has opened up so many doors for me. I’ve barely been in London a week, but I have met so many incredible people and seen so many incredible things. I’ve done things in the last year that I wouldn’t have done before because I would’ve been scared of failing. The experiences that we have define our future ones, and our failures define our future successes.
At the end of the day, life is short. College is even shorter, and the time in our lives to fail miserably and easily move on is just as short. But doing things that may not work out isn’t stupid or rash. It’s what we’re supposed to do. Yeah, failing may be difficult for a very long time. But it leads to better and greater things. The biggest regrets aren’t the failures, they’re the things we haven’t done. If my biggest regret in life is doing something but failing, then I think that I’ve done all that I should have done. It’s still tough for me, as it is for most people. We all want to be comfortable, to be successful and to not fail. But college isn’t for being comfortable or succeeding at everything. It’s for pursuing your passions, discovering what you’re good at and doing new things. Do those things, and don’t be afraid of failing at them. Who knows … you might end up living in London.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.