Why Failing Became a Blessing
Failing something is always regarded by our society as something shameful and a reflection that you are not clever or just not up to the job.
We tend to hide our failures from others, and the negative feeling surrounding them never seems to leave us.
So, what if failing was actually a blessing in disguise?
This is how Clarity Junction Podcast Host, Gillian feels about her first major fail in life.
So keep listening to hear her story of why failing actually became a blessing.
Hello and welcome to the Clarity Junction podcast.
Today, I would like to share a personal story all about the first time that I failed something big.
I know that the fear of failure is a common reason why so many of us don’t push for our goals in life, and I also know that most of us give up on our dreams completely if we happen to fail first time round.
My first experience of failing was a complete shock to me and failing something big had never crossed my mind before. So, when it happened, it really changed my outlook at the time, and for many years afterwards.
Now I look back and see this experience as a blessing, and in today’s podcast episode, I will share why I feel this way.
My name is Gillian Duncan, Positive Life and Wellbeing Coach, inspiring women to life the life they want, and I am delighted that you are here with me today.
Sure, I’d failed class tests before, but never anything major. I had been a high achieving kid and, although it didn’t come easy to me and I studied hard, it was always expected of me to do well.
My family, teachers and friends all expected me to get the grades and to do well in life. There was never any other discussion. I would be a success, no matter what.
This didn’t take away my own self-doubt, however. For some reason, I never seemed to have an over-abundance of self-confidence and always sought approval and encouragement from others.
Perhaps I felt that everyone around me had put me on a pedestal that I wasn’t worthy of. It could be that I was suffering from 'Imposter Syndrome'. Whatever I felt, I kept on going and believing everyone around me that I was clever and would be successful in whatever I did.
When I was 15, before I had sat any school exams, I was required to sit my Grade 5 Music Theory exam. This exam was required in order that I could sit my next violin practical exam, so on the advice of the teacher, I entered it.
I had been learning music for years. I had been given a violin for my 7th birthday and took lessons regularly through the years. I played in orchestras and it’s fair to say that music was a huge part of my life. I loved, and still love music.
I had been attending music theory classes for a few years. It was a very unwelcoming set up. You would go into a classroom of others, sit and write in a book for the 40 minutes and never speak to anyone. The teacher never ‘taught’ and just waited for you to approach the desk with a question. This I never did!
I didn’t know anyone in my class until I was a lot older, and being the youngest in my class for years, it just added to the feeling that I just wanted to go to class, keep my head down then leave when the bell rang!
I felt so uncomfortable in these classes.
Whatever I learned, I learned from reading a little red book while sitting at the front of the class.
It’s not that I didn’t enjoy learning about the theory of music, or that I was ignorant of it, as at home, I would write my own little musical pieces, scribbling them down on manuscript paper, using whatever knowledge I had.
Learning to read and interpret music had meant that I could find middle C on the piano, and from there teach myself to play.
There were so many benefits to learning music, and I had fun applying the knowledge that I had.
So, after years of sitting with my little red book at the front of the class, the time came for me to sit an exam on it.
I thought, ‘Sure, OK. It can’t be that difficult. Afterall I have been reading, writing and playing music for years’, and I happily entered the exam on my teacher’s recommendation.
A few weeks passed and the exam day came. It was my first ever big exam.
I had to travel to Glasgow University and sit in a huge hall, at a single desk with others around me.
I can’t say that I was nervous, as I had no real reason to be.
It was just something that I had to get on with and complete.
I really didn’t see it as a problem. How hard could it be?
Then it was time to open the paper.
I remember that feeling so well. I wanted the ground to swallow me up.
There were so many questions, and it seemed to be written in a really strange language!
For most of the questions, I had no idea what they were asking me to do.
I did what I could. Answered as much as I was able in the time I had and left feeling relieved to be out of that room!
I didn’t think that I had failed. Afterall, I answered lots and I knew what I was talking about when it came to music.
After a few weeks had passed by and I received a letter from the exam board. I had failed.
I was so shocked. I had such a horrible range of emotions going on inside and questions circulating around my head.
How could I have failed?
What did I do wrong?
What will everyone think of me? I have let everyone down. I am obviously not good at music. I must be stupid.
How will I tell everyone? What will they say?
I am sure you can imagine how I was feeling.
I was feeling like a complete failure. It sure wasn’t nice.
Worst still, I couldn’t even explain why I had failed.
I didn’t know.
I really didn’t know.
Soon it was time to face my music teacher and stand up in front of the class of strangers and announce that I had failed the exam.
My teacher was very sympathetic and sat me down and started to go over what could have potentially been my failing points.
She couldn’t really find anything. Then she asked to see the practice exam past papers that I had completed.
‘What exam past papers? What are past papers? Should I have them?’, was my reply.
She just looked blankly at me. I think she realised, at that point, that I had been sent to an exam missing essential knowledge. Not the knowledge of music, but the knowledge of how to read, interpret and answer exam questions.
My teacher then grabbed a pen and paper and wrote down a whole load of resources for me to purchase and start going through.
From that day on, my theory class was a lot more fun and interesting! My teacher interacted more with me, and I loved the advice and tips she was giving me. It was like a new door in music had opened up for me.
I was entered into the exam again, and I am proud to say that I passed with distinction.
So, why do I feel that this experience was a blessing, and not something to shy away from?
I mean, don’t get me wrong, it took me many years to work this one out and get over the whole ‘you’re gonna fail’ feeling at every exam I sat!
However, in the last few years, I have realised that failing this particular exam was indeed a blessing.
You see, fast forward about 25 years, and I found myself I the position of teaching my own children music theory.
As they started to grow an interest in music and were dedicated enough to take lessons, I realised, early on, that they needed to learn the basics behind what they were learning to read and play.
I also realised that there would be a point later on that they would need to sit an exam covering music theory.
With my own experience behind me, I decided that I would enter them into their first exam as early as possible, with only the expectation that they go along, experience what it’s like to be in an exam hall, and try to answer a few questions.
So, when my boys were 10 and 12, I booked them into their Grade 1 exam.
But that wasn’t all I did in order to prepare them for it.
I bought them 2 books. One which they could work through and learn initially from, then another that was written by the exam board which had more of the different ‘grown up’ language used in the exam.
I also gave them past papers. Lots of them! Soon they were competing with each other as to who would get the highest mark between them.
Only when I thought they were ready, did I enter them into the exam.
On the day, they entered the exam room together, and my husband and I sat nervously outside the door!
When they came out, they were all excited and told me that they thought they had passed.
This was confirmed a few weeks later when I was notified that they had both passed with distinction.
Naturally, I was over the moon and so proud of them.
It was at this point that I recognised the true blessing in my failing.
I had taken my own failure and turned it into a means of success for my own children.
Not only did I pass on my knowledge to them, but I also passed on my experience of how to sit this type of exam.
Over the years, both my sons have sat each theory exam and passed them with distinction, and it was such a proud day for me when they sat that same Grade 5 paper that I had all those years ago, and again, both passing with distinction.
This whole journey, for me, has been such a rewarding and healing experience.
I now know that I wasn’t a failure because I was stupid. I failed because I hadn’t understood the questions, and what was being asked of me.
It wasn’t a failure in my knowledge, but a failure in my interpretation of the questions.
Some may even argue that I was also failed, initially by the teaching system, who didn’t get to know me, guide me or pass on to me valuable information that would, perhaps, have prevented me from failing in the first place.
As a child, I couldn’t see or understand this. The only thing I knew how to do was feel ashamed, increase my own self-doubt, and fear failure with each exam I sat from that point on.
Looking back, I have no doubt that this experience had a profound affect my academic progress.
However, I also have no doubt that I would have failed eventually at something along the way. So, no matter when I experienced it, failure would probably have had the same result in the long run!
Returning to the present day, however, I am grateful that my own experience has allowed me to become a better teacher for my own children.
I know that there will come a time where they will face failing something, that’s only a natural part of the learning process, but by giving them this insight on how to prepare for exams has allowed me to help them further with their own studies.
They also know that their best will always be good enough for me, and I will be there to support them no matter what.
After all, failure isn’t all about being wrong, stupid or lazy etc. It’s about receiving feedback on how you are progressing on your journey of achievement.
Failing something isn’t the end. It’s the motivation and information you need to clear your thoughts and start looking at your challenge from a different angle.
Failing might not feel good at the time, but if you are open to take the lessons from it, then it can make you an even stronger person than you were before.
So, my advice to those who are letting a past fail hold you back, is to dust yourself down, work out where you went off track and what you need to do to get back on it. Then go and do it.
Be proud of your fails and use your experience to teach others that it’s not the end of the world and inspire them to keep going by showing them that you are not afraid to let a fail keep you down.
Go out there, work hard and show them you can, and you will achieve your goal.
That’s all for this episode.
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Thanks for listening.
Bye for now and keep being awesome!