Exam disappointment – My life is over or is it?

Disappointment with exams can be one of the most devastating experiences for a student, especially when they were not expecting bad results. I have been there. I know the feeling and it’s awful. Over the past few days young friends of mine have told me that: ‘their life is over’ because they didn’t get what they wanted in the leaving certificate. A lot of tears have been shed and I have been doing a lot of listening. It’s important to remember how you perceive notions of failure dictates how you behave in response to bad news. There are two ways to fail.

  • One way is to make a mistake or judgment call that turns out to be wrong. For example, a coach may make a mistake in putting a wrong team player on the team which may cost his team the game. Or another example would be a CEO of a company may decide to launch a new product that he thinks will bring dramatic growth for the company, but instead the product may flop on the market. You are making hundreds of decisions a day so inevitably some of those decisions are going to be wrong. This type of failure revolves around what you did wrong. 
  • The other type of failure is when you do everything right, put all of your efforts and energies into your pursuit of success, and even do everything to prevent something from going wrong, but in the end, you still come up short. These kinds of letdowns are particularly hard to handle because of the feelings of helplessness associated with them. However, some people take this type of failure as a cue that they are close to reaping their reward. They view it as a matter of time NOT a matter of their ability to perform what is needed to achieve what they want. Although these failures are hard to take, they are not impossible to overcome. Everyone experiences these defeats and everyone handles them differently.

Bouncing Back

  • Talk to your family and friends and discuss your options. Don’t bottle up your emotions.
  • Change your perception of the ‘Failure’ to seeing it as a ‘Setback’ – Once you begin to look at your shortcoming as an event that knocked you back instead of one that knocked you down, you’ll begin to see that it is very possible to recover from the letdown.  This also helps you acknowledge that bumps in the road are common but they are also manageable. I’m a big believer that we learn the most when we fail, if we have the right mindset about failure. If you failed at nothing, would you ever have succeed at anything? Pick yourself up and move forward with your new insights. Focus on lessons learned. Try objectively to assess what you could have done better, more specifically, what you will do better next time.
  • Persistence The only real failure is to give up too soon. It’s important to think of previous successes in exams, tests, and other challenges, and the strategies you used in those situations.
  • Avoid generalisingWhen we get frustrated we tend to generalise our situations and make broad statements that are not necessarily true. Saying “this always happens….” or “I never….” are detrimental to your recovery process because what you are really doing is setting yourself up for another loss. Understanding that the setback that took place is a solitary event helps you recover quicker. Instead of generalising your statements prepare yourself for the future by making saying what you want to happen.
  • Balance Successful people are those who strike a good balance between optimism and reality. They see opportunities but do not ignore risks or mistakes. Above all, they rely on themselves, not others, to strive for their goals – although they also know when to ask for help.
  • Potential Take pride in your strengths and achievements. Remind yourself of your enormous potential. Learn from your experiences, identifying the factors that contribute to both your successes and disappointments.
  • Self- belief – Believe in yourself but stay grounded. There is always room to improve. Make changes to what you do and how you challenge yourself otherwise you will go on getting the same results.

Lessons Learned

An overwhelming majority of life’s failures are not life threatening. This means that life goes on even though you came up short. We sometimes over analyse our setbacks to the point of making them larger than life.  Try to remember that even though you’ve experienced a setback, there are still many more opportunities ahead even if you do not see them right away.

Sinead Kane – The Kane Ability, Motivational Speaker

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