How to Deal With Failure in Grad School

I want to start off this blog telling you that I do not believe that there is such thing as failure when you have tried to do something. True failure in grad school comes from not even trying in the first place due to fear of not getting the result you want. People that tell you that they failed an exam, failed a marriage, failed really anything are not actually failing. Ok sorry to be redundant with all of the “failures” lol.

So why did I name this blog “How to Deal With Failure in Grad School”? It’s because most people would rather see that than something like “How I deal With Finding Out a Different Way of Doing Something Because the Results Did Not Turn Out the Way I Planned”. It’s a mouth full isn’t it?

dealing with failure in grad school

You Have to Learn from Failure in Grad School

So let me tell you how I go about dealing with a situation that I was not expecting, or one that I did not like. I simply learn something from it. I have gone through a ton of therapy and have listened to a ridiculous amount of Buddhist talks to change my way of looking at “failures”. They are all learning experiences which means that they aren’t failures at all. Sure, you may have failed an exam, but you learned that the method of studying that you did wasn’t right. Sure, your marriage didn’t go as planned, but you learned that you were not in the right relationship.

Sure, I failed an experiment and managed to spill leaded water all over the place, probably causing me to ingest the same concentrations of lead that were found in Flint, Michigan’s water, but I learned that I need to be more careful when it comes to things like that.

The fact of the matter is you need to learn something from each “failure” that you have. If you haven’t at least learned one thing, than that could be called a failure as well. Listen, grad school will make you feel like everything that you do is a failure. Sure, your experiments didn’t go as planned, but if you pay attention, you would have learned how the experiment didn’t go as planned. You learned what not to do and you won’t make that mistake again. See how you can use each failure in grad school as a learning experience?

failure in grad school

You Have to Try

The only true failure in grad school is when you just don’t try. I tell people all of the time to just try and do something even though they “know for a fact that it will go bad”. The future is completely uncertain and you never know what will happen. I see how my thoughts stop me from even trying something, but I will force myself to do it, and then it turns out it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be.

Many people are just too afraid of the failure process so they don’t even attempt to do what they are so worried they will fail at it. You know what every expert ever did? They failed more than they succeeded. They failed so much until they eventually got it right. They might have been afraid to fail but they went about trying anyway.

One thing that I hear all of the time is “what if I get it wrong?” This is especially true when dealing with grad courses. People are afraid to try new things because they might not get it right the first time. That is true failure. Just not trying because you “know you will fail.” This mindset causes all sorts of problems later and it creates a ton of anxiety, trust me.

As I have touch upon in my blog about doing things that scare you (link here), just trying something, even if its scary, will help you succeed. You will get to a point where failing doesn’t affect you. You’ll be numb to that awkward feeling after failing. But, you have to try it, even if it’s scary.

Overall

By changing your mindset, and I believe this is a major part of cognitive behavioral therapy, you will see that failures do not exist. You you happen to screw up pretty badly, learn at least one thing from it. If you embarrass yourself and call that a failure, laugh about it and make it into a funny memory. Life is way too short to not take risks and worry about failure. Luckily, I am learning a great deal about not being afraid to fail in grad school. I have been told “no” so many times and I have messed up more times than not, and you know what? I learn something each time and I continue on. It is an experience to grow from these experiences. It’s a long process, but my God, it is life changing.

Final Thoughts

Dealing with failure in grad school is hard, I get it. It is, however, essential. The things you are working on and will be working on might be brand new in this world. You might be working on some novel idea that may change history. You think you’ll get everything perfect? Probably not lol. See, the mistakes are where you learn the most and those mistakes might not even be mistakes. I find that when I mess up, something cool comes from it. Changing your mindset about what a failure is is a great way to overcome the fear of it.

I hope you guys understand what I am trying to get across. Don’t be afraid to fail in grad school. Embrace the suck and realize that each “failure” is a great opportunity to learn a valuable lesson. I promise you that changing your mindset about failure in grad school will drastically improve the way you go about experiments and research. Don’t be afraid to fail. I hope you all have a wonderful day and week. Let me know how failure has helped you out and made you a better person. Peace!

4 thoughts on “How to Deal With Failure in Grad School

  • All of life is a learning experience, or put another way, every experience in life is a learning opportunity. I would go even further, and say that learning = changing, so that without any change occurring then there has been no learning. I remember the first time I came across the Kolb Learning cycle/process. It was like a bullet between the eyes, I was in my late 30s, highly educated, successful career, but suddenly realised how much learning I had missed because I just didn’t understand what learning was or how to enable it. The next 40 years of my life have been a wonder of exploration.

  • Great Blog!

    Thank you for following me so that I could discover it! I’m finishing my Executive MBA and (hopefully) starting an MSW program in September. This is going to be a great resource for me AND many of my followers.

    You state: “The only true failure is when you just don’t try.” I agree with this for the most part, for most people.

    I tend to avoid things I don’t want to do – and that alone is enough for me. If it’s something I HAVE to do, and I don’t do it, that is a failure. But when it’s simply deciding something isn’t worth my time, effort, or the possible emotional toll, failure doesn’t feel like the right word. Just some food for thought.

    Thanks for the great message! Learning by experience is a wonderful thing. I can’t wait to look through some of your older posts.

    Best,
    Sonja

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