When I was seventeen, I had an interview for a university at which I had applied to study medicine. I don’t recall much about the interview or many of the things I spoke about with the interviewer but I will always remember one question she asked me: have you ever failed?
For a moment, I was stuck for what to say.
Failure is a fear for me. It isn’t just a case of not wanting to fail or disliking failure. My stomach physically turns when I think about it and it makes me panic so much that I don’t put myself out there for the fear that I might fail. It doesn’t help that I am an extreme perfectionist with unattainably high standards for myself; if I get a good grade or achieve something successful, I won’t be happy with it unless it surpasses the bar I have set for myself. Sure, there were times in my dancing ‘career’ when I didn’t achieve the first place trophy that I would have happily taken home. But I hadn’t wanted first place, not truly, not with all of my heart. So that didn’t come to my mind during the interview. My GCSEs had been successful. Although there were two grades I felt I could have improved, I was happy with my results overall so in my mind, I hadn’t failed. I hadn’t gotten into my first choice sixth form as I had applied after the deadline. But that wasn’t failing as I had never had the opportunity to apply and therefore the opportunity to be considered due to my late application so I had never failed. And then there was my first job interview ever. I hadn’t been successful but I didn’t classify that as failure as I hadn’t thought I would actually get the job.
But when I was 17, I experienced my first failure: the theory test for my driving license.
I had been practising it for weeks and I was at a stage where I was passing the question part with a near perfect score (usually 48, 49 or 50 out of 50) and I always seemed to pass the hazard perception as well, it was something I had thought I was a natural at. So I went into the test centre, sat down at the computer and really took my time with the questions, knowing that I had to achieve 43 to pass that part of the test. Then the hazard perception came. I remember there was one clip of a bus that had pulled over and a group of children were getting out of the van and running to the pavement and I thought there were so many hazards in this particular clip that my points for that clip were actually disallowed as I had flagged too many hazards. I was a bit shaken but thought nothing of it.
And then I received that little piece of paper at the end. That little piece of paper that said I had passed the question stage (49/50) but failed the hazard perception stage (I achieved 41/70 – the cutoff was 44 for a pass).
To say I was gutted would be a gross understatement.
I went out to my grandparents’ car and I cried. I had been wearing my uniform as I’d had the intention of going to school afterward but I was too distraught to face anyone so my grandparents took me home and I spent the rest of the day crying in my bed.
Even then I thought that I was overreacting to failing a theory test that I could easily retake but it hit me hard. It was the first time I had failed anything in my life. The ‘perfect’ and ‘intelligent’ Taisie that everyone knew was a lie. I felt like I wasn’t as smart as people made me out to be and I couldn’t do something even if I set it as my primary goal. My family were supportive, telling me that I could retake it again whenever I wanted and that the money didn’t matter and everyone fails something sometime. But it wasn’t what I wanted to hear, nothing could console me.
Eventually I calmed down and was able to retake the test not long after the initial one. This time, I passed (wooo!). The thought of failure didn’t occur to me much after that. The way I had seen it was that I had gotten my one failure out of my system before the big stuff happened: exams, university, career.
So when I was asked “have you ever failed?” during the interview, I responded with “yes” and told them of the story of my first theory test. As it happens, I ended up failing that interview for university, along with another one that I went to a few weeks afterwards, and then my third choice university rejected me without even giving me an interview. Needless to say I was pretty gutted.
To cut a very long story a little shorter, I decided not to go to university that year. I decided to take a gap year, which has now turned into “gap period”, since I should have gone to university in 2013 if it were to have been capped to a year.
At the moment, I have a lot of insecurities and uncertainties in my life. I don’t know what my future has in store for me and quite frankly I find that terrifying. However, I can’t complain too much.
Going to university straight after school wouldn’t have been as advantageous for me as it may be if I choose to go to university next year or in ten years time. I know now that if I go to university, it will be because I want to go to university and not because I have been shuffled along the educational system into university. And while the past few years have been hard since I left school, I have met some amazing people and learned a lot about myself.
Quite simply, if I hadn’t failed those interviews that then forced me to take a gap year, I wouldn’t be who I am today. While I don’t proclaim that I am perfect – in fact I think I have a lot of work to do before I am even above common in terms of personality – I have learned that I am a valuable human with valid opinions and justified emotions. I matter, I count, I am important, whether other people believe it or not. And coming from me – someone who has suffered from self-esteem issues and fears of inadequacy since before I reached high school – that is a huge step forward.
So, while my life isn’t perfect and sometimes I do wish I had gone to university or I had done this or I had done that, I am proud to have failed because I am proud of how far I have come in my life.
Peace, love and happiness
– Taisie ♥