Monthly Archives: April 2015

Failure Stories

Whose failure story do you know? Yes, a story of failure – one that might not have a happy/successful ending. Do you know more than one person’s failure story? Someone who is not in your family or not super famous? Probably not, Americans choose to talk about success rather failure. But failure is what we learn from, correct?

Recently, I facilitated small-group advising sessions with Chemistry students, co-presenting with the Chemistry Department Chair. She told the students, when she started college she wasn’t committed to being a science student, earned ‘D’ grades in her major courses, and was on Academic Probation. At our university Chemistry is a popular major, and if students are not successful at their first attempt in Chemistry 1A (entry level course) they might not be able to take it a second time until a year later, which then automatically leads to an additional year, or two, to their length of time in college. However, she also informed the students she went to talk to professors about her struggles in their courses and they provided her with “how to study effectively” advice which helped significantly in her academics, and ultimately motivate her through her Bachelor’s degree.

I believe most of us realize that success isn’t usually achieved on the first try, but how many specific stories of failure are you familiar with? Many of us know Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were college drop-outs, but we know their stories of success – what about their failures? Failure stories aren’t popular, but I believe only being familiar with stories of success gives students a false sense of reality.  The famous college drop-outs we’re familiar with are famous because they worked really hard, over long periods of time, to do something significant. They didn’t drop-out and then spend a few hours a week pursuing their passion and then suddenly they were found and became famous; it doesn’t happen that way.

Success is achieved by giving 100%, and we shouldn’t only give 100% to things we’re passionate about – we all should give 100% to everything we do. That is when we find success! Seek out stories of failure, contemplate and learn from them, use them to motivate you through your failures, whether the fail is academic, personal or social. Then, learn from yourself and keep trying!

Here are a few stories to help you find your motivation/keep you motivated!

Stay in the Present

College students – you’re nearing the end of the academic year. You have 3-6 weeks (approximately) until your term ends and things are busy. It’s Spring, the weather is nice, and you’re probably getting a little stir crazy sitting in a lecture hall, writing research papers, or spending time behind a microscope in a lab. I am here to remind you to stay in the present and focus! Instead of letting distractions get the best of you, stay on task and commit to giving these next few weeks your best. Now is the time to prove to yourself you have will-power and follow-through, do not procrastinate! Set your intention on academic achievement and stay focused!

High School seniors – it’s time to inform the college/university you plan to attend of your intent to enroll. (Remember, you can tell more than one college you plan to attend and still take a little more time to make your final decision – but do not miss the intent to enroll deadline!) As you’re narrowing your choices, it is very important to do detailed research on each institution you’re considering. Make sure to investigate your majors of interest, know if you are ‘in’ the major, will be a ‘pre-‘ major, or will be applying for a space in an ‘impacted’ major. If you’re receiving financial aid, in any form: grants, scholarships, or loans, make sure to get all your questions answered by a financial aid counselor. The financial aid resources in our book can be a great resource for those conversations. Doing intensive research now should be a great help in making your final decision!

There’s no time like the present – stay in it!

Feelings of being overwhelmed?

We (your authors) teach at a large public university in California.  We have over 25,000 students enrolled.  We don’t know them all.  But, we interact with quite a few everyday and those days turn into weeks and months, semesters and years.  This week, there has been a tragedy for one of our students.  One of the students in my department, who had been missing since early April,  was found and confirmed deceased yesterday (it appears that the student may have taken his own life).  We were notified by the Chair of my department.  It was heartbreaking.  It was devastating.  It was shocking.  It was tragic.  It was all of these loaded words you can imagine.

Today, students began visiting my office hours to talk about their knowledge of the deceased student.  “I sat next to him in class.”  “I took notes for him.” “I had talked to him.”  “He told me he wasn’t feeling well.”  Students cried and confessed that they sometimes felt the student wasn’t taking class seriously — consistent absences, poor scores on assignments, etc.  Now those same students felt guilt.  They felt shame for how they had judged a classmate who clearly was in crisis.

So, here are some thoughts:  you are not at fault if someone else causes harm to him/herself.  There are many resources on campus for processing grief and trauma (find your campus counseling center) take advantage of it!  Going forward, consider your classmates’ complaints from various perspectives.  If you hear of or see a classmate in distress, tell someone — the professor, for example.  It is NOT your job to fix or find a solution for the classmate, but reaching out and letting a faculty know could help.  It can’t hurt.  Finally, sometimes we are all struggling on “an edge” of something — maybe school work is overwhelming us; maybe family obligations are weighing us down; maybe work is pushing hard on us.  Whatever the situation, be aware that if you are already in a precarious position, the death of a classmate (or other tragic events that may not be directly related to you) can affect you adversely.  Be prepared to seek help.  Seek help earlier rather than later.  Talk to someone today/now, not later.  Most of the time, your university will have a counseling center that is available (either in person on by phone) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Don’t wait.  If you are feeling overwhelmed, act now!

And, take care.  You are doing a good job.  You are juggling multiple responsibilities.  It is NOT easy.  But, there are people on your campus who will show concern and will care.  Reach out.

Post Mid Term Blues

Spring Break is long gone.  The midterm exams (first or second ones) might be coming back to you.  The grades may be lower than you had anticipated.  What should you do?

Here is what 3 of my own students did in the past 10 days:  They each, independently, visited my office.  They hung their heads a bit — disheartened by their performance on the exam.  They were anxious — worried about their ability going forward to pass the class.  But, they were brave and reaching out — which made me proud of them individually and I let them know.

If you perform poorly on an exam, it is OK to feel disheartened and let down.

If you perform poorly on an exam, it is OK (in fact normal) to feel anxious.

If you perform poorly on an exam, it is NOT OK to retreat into your room and not reach out to your instructor and/or classmates/support network.  In fact, while it may be difficult, you need to go to your professor’s office hours and talk about the exam.  The instructor is about the only person who can provide context and clues to understanding exactly what your poor grade on the exam means for your overall grade in the class.  Only the instructor can explain to you which parts of the exam were done poorly and which parts were done well.  Your friends can’t give you these kinds of answers or feedback; but, it is precisely this feedback you need.  Therefore, you must go and ask.  You can say:  “I am worried about my grade in the class given my poor performance on my exam.  Can you help me understand my current standing in the class ?”  It is only this information that will help alleviate (some of) your anxiety and direct you toward a more successful path.

I want students to come and talk to me about their exam performances.  I want to help encourage, nudge, and guide students toward success.  Professors DO want students to succeed . . .  we often feel, then, like we, too, have succeeded.  Everybody wins!  Just remember:  success may NOT be a specific grade.  Success may be mastery of particular content or a meaningful connection with a mentor (the professor).



High School seniors – congratulations on your acceptance letters (emails)! We know waiting to hear from all the institutions to which you applied caused anxiety and stress, but you made it! Now you’re faced with the task of deciding which school, or schools, to say “yes, I plan to attend” and sign-up for orientation. Yes, you read correctly, it is okay to tell more than one college you plan to enroll in the Fall. For institutions that have orientation during the summer (June/July), this option provides you a final look at the school and truly get a feel for what it will be like to be a student there. There is a lot involved with orientation, and we’ll blog more about it as the time gets closer. For now, pay attention to the date you must inform the school of your decision and continue doing your happy dance – you’re going to college!

A special shout-out to Sophie, one of our readers, who was accepted to five, or was it six, colleges! She received scholarship offers at multiple institutions and made a wonderful decision to attend University of California, Irvine, where she was accepted into the nursing program!

College seniors – your “congratulations” is just a few weeks away! Keep giving 100% to your projects, papers and exams, they are your final preparation for life after college, i.e. WORK. Hopefully you are in the midst of interviews; the career center on our campus is currently hosting on-campus interviews with a variety of employers/industries. What is better than having the employer come to you (your campus) for a first interview? Visit your career center to polish your resume and start interviewing ASAP!

A second special shout-out to Rita, one of our readers, who is graduating with a business degree in just a few weeks and was recently offered a full-time job related to her major! Congratulations!

A final congratulations, to Wilson, who I mentioned in last week’s blog (below) – he was accepted into the study abroad program in Canada!