Finding the silver lining within failure is necessary

By Monica Brigham/reporter

Although students will settle into a routine as they ease into the semester, challenges inevitably bubble up.

But NE counselor Masika Smith is one of many who help students learn how to overcome failure and rejection to be successful in their college career and life.

“Failure is a stepping stone,” reads a message engraved in a rock NE humanities dean Linda Quinn hands out to students and faculty alike.

Smith believes failure and rejection are hard for students to process making them prone to cognitive distortions, which are ways that the mind convinces someone of things that are not true, usually used to reinforce negative thoughts or emotions.

“Growth is a process, it is not static,” Smith said. “Our failures do not define us as a person, because I can fail at some things, but I still have the quality where I can do great things. I can still dream. It’s not the end.”

Today’s students have a magnified level of fear when it comes to failure and rejection, which could attribute to low self-esteem.

“Students live in a culture that’s driven by consensus where social media has created an increasing struggle for students who strive to be liked, loved or valued based on how many likes, follows or shares,” according to the Association for Psychological Science.

“Math is not my strong suit so I had to take a remedial class. I don’t have family members that I could ask for help because they never went to college.”

 – NW student Diana Williams

During the spring semester, TCC counseling departments held a series of speeches and interactive presentations on all campuses about emotional intelligence that discussed cognitive distortions and how to combat them.

“Going to the counseling center is something that I didn’t know was available to me,” NE student Marcus Jackson said. “It can be hard to talk about failures. You don’t want people to view you as a failure, it’s embarrassing.”

According to Smith, students become fixated on the success story without recognizing the failure and rejection behind the triumphs.

If a student is struggling in a foundational class for their career path, they may doubt their potential for that profession.

“As a student, it is hard to look at celebrities or YouTube stars who are so successful, and here I am at a community college,” South student Alexa Miller said.

One technique that Smith uses with her students is taking a look at the journey of successful people, specifically J.K. Rowling and Dr. Seuss.

Even famous people have failures.

“We focus on the thing that made them famous, the research, the thing that they built,” Smith said. “We see that, but what happened before the success? What happened in the journey before the success? They are human just like us.”

Most students have the desire to run away from their failures resulting in dropped classes, failed courses or lack of involvement in school activities.

“When I first came to TCC I didn’t want to be involved,” said NW student Diana Williams. “As a first generation college student, I needed to focus on my studies. I have a lot of people counting on me, and failure is not an option.”

Williams said there were plenty of times when she felt like giving up on her studies.

“I had some setbacks in my studies,” Williams said. “Math is not my strong suit so I had to take a remedial class. I don’t have family members that I could ask for help because they never went to college.”

Smith wants all students to know that failing is not wasted time or effort because failure allows students to learn and improve.

Learning to become resilient through failures or other challenges creates the opportunity to rise to a higher level of functioning, therefore creating success.

Knowing that failure is only temporary and creating a support system with classmates, organizations or school counselors can assist with overcoming those roadblocks, she said.

“For me, it has been a difficult journey to graduation,” NE SGA president Meesha Robinson said. “I have had trials and tribulations that include moving to a new state, being a single mother and holding positions on multiple executive boards. Failure has been something I have come to terms with.”