What failure taught me about success

The past couple years – I have been unsuccessful.

Me, I’ve always been above-average, and some would even say exceptional. I have always had high hopes from myself and so has everyone around me. This is because I did often bring back exceptional results. But somewhere along the line, I got overconfident, arrogant – and stopped practising.

Always, I used to get Gold, in all the math contests that I did. But continuous success made me too arrogant, self-centred and made me feel superior. So somewhere along the line – I stopped practising, stopped trying to improve, and lived in exultant pride for a year. I didn’t have to try at all, not work hard at all, but still – I got Gold.

But early last year, I finally got a taste of failure. Failure hit me, hard. When I moved schools, there came a set of new olympiads, and when I realised that I can no longer get Gold in a grade 6 olympiad with Grade 4 knowledge, I fell into a pit. One that I still haven’t got out of.

Suddenly I was no longer exceptional, no longer the best. And instead of motivating me, this pushed me back. I got demotivated, reduced, discouraged, depressed, even.

For 1 and a half years I kept falling into this pit. I got into a vicious cycle – I achieve poorly in a test and my self-confidence breaks and lowers, I achieve poorly, and my mental strength weakens. I kept riding this vicious cycle until my self-confidence was comparable to an 80-year-old about to race Usain Bolt.

Then I read the book Mindset, the book mindset, taught me about the psychological stages of mind we’re all on. Either the growth mindset – or the fixed mindset. The book quoted of examples that described exactly the pit I’d fallen into – and from the same height. I realised that I was one of the too many people who thought with the fixed mindset. People with a fixed Mindset believe that their basic qualities, like their intelligence, are fixed traits. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort.

And I can tell you, it was never that I was unable to work hard. I was scared to.

I was scared that I would work hard and then fail. Even though I was failing anyway, I was scared to work hard for the fear of failing. That sounds really dumb, but it is psychologically true.

However, reading that book changed my whole outlook. I changed my perspective and my mindset to the growth mindset. I worked crazy hard then. I must have done an entirety of 300 hours of practice between now and then. And I saw some improvement.

Living the nightmare

This point is where most stories get all cheery, but my story is a little different. After all my practice, I saw great improvement. But while I was practising. On the actual test, a completely different story played out. If I would get a 99/100 on a practice test, I would get below 50 on the real test. My dad told me that this was because of my performance anxiety. I am too pressured to do well on a certain test after the previous failures, and doing a test with that much pressure caused me to make careless errors.

This is literally the worst fear of a person in a fixed mindset. A person that I was. I was living and experiencing my worst fear.

On a competitive math test that I recently did. I noticed that I knew how to every single question. I could solve every question in half the time given and get near perfect scores on all of the practice that I did. The questions on this test ranged in difficulty, with 1 being the easiest and 25 being crazy hard.

On this test, I noticed that I got all of the difficult questions – the ones you’re not expected to solve, correct. but the first 10 – the easiest ones of all, wrong. On this test, I made so many careless errors that my total dropped 32 points. 32! The score I should have achieved was 120, instead, I got 88.

On the easy questions and I made simple division mistakes, stupid mistakes on counting and logic. But I got the questions with formulas and complex algebra correct.

Why was this? Because I was not focussed, not focussed while I was doing the test, pressured while I was doing the test and not completely there in the moment.

My learnings:

From the past 2 years, I have learned a lot. One of these things is that I had been working very hard, but only hard. While I should have been working hard and working smart. I should not only have spent my time learning new formulas but spent it on training my mind to be focussed enough to use those formulas on test day.

I realised that I all this time, I’ve been working hard, but not working smart. When working smart is what really matters on the day.

Working smart is what really matters on the day.

Image – https://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photos-trophy-silver-cracked-background-image10979773

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.