The 'Real' World, and other four-letter words

With few exceptions, the University of Virginia is still a school of traditional values and social codes.

Gentlemen will occasionally hold a door open for a lady or give up their seat on the bus for an elderly person.

Women, especially Southern women, still consider it appropriate to wear pearls for every activity from dental fillings to debutante balls.

And every polite Virginia student knows it is taboo to utter four-letter words in mixed company.

There is one four-letter word in particular that U.Va. students rarely vocalize or even like to think about. You may already know the one I'm thinking of in particular, but I'll give you a hint nonetheless.

It starts with an "f" and you would never want to say it in front of your parents or in a meeting with a professor.

No, not that four-letter f-word.

And shame on you for even thinking it.

I'm talking about another word: Fail.

When we're younger, perhaps in high school, we still consider failure to be a grading phenomenon or a by-product of the bell curve.It is simply a letter grade after "D," softened in some institutions by using the notation "E" instead of "F."

Now, many of you still don't know what I'm talking about. If you're walking to class in Cabell Hall while reading The Cavalier Daily, then you're a U.Va. student and have obviously had few encounters with a failing grade. It's simply a scary ghost story that some of your friends from high school liked to tell before report cards came out.

At a high-caliber school like Virginia, we have a community of students that don't know about failure. They don't know what it is, how it occurs or what the consequences may be. And while this is to be expected at the number one public school in the country, it creates a precarious environment in which we prepare for The Real World.

For those of you who think The Real World is just a television show on MTV, maybe this topic is especially important for you.

At its very heart, college is still an arena for growth and development.For these processes to occur, we still need faculty and advisors who can nurture us and build our self-esteem. When we learn about the concept of "feedback" in the classroom, it is largely slanted toward positive reinforcements and optimistic remarks.

Again, we don't know how to fail because we're not told when we're doing it.

In my job this summer, the management gave equal emphasis to successes and failures in our performance reviews.The "3+/3-" system meant that even the top performers were told where their weaknesses existed.

No opportunity existed for an intern to create a mindset in which they could do no wrong. There always was someone on hand to tell you that you had a long way to go.

But don't mistake "development opportunities" for failure.They don't really count, although a good manager will use them to help an employee rebound after failure.

With classes starting and job interviews coming up, failure is a particularly dirty word around Grounds and an unlikely topic for a newspaper column.

No one wants to think about failing a class when they're only in the process of buying the required books.Similarly, no student wants to panic about joblessness and sign up for an LSAT class before employers even set foot on Grounds.

But it's out there. Just like Osama Bin Laden, it's hiding in the shadows.

As I move closer to The Real World, I realize that I will not always be in an environment where everyone is dedicated to my success and development. In TRW, failure is a lot more common and lot more consequential than the letter "F" next to Spanish 202 on your transcript.

And the worst part about it is that failure ceases to be something that you can blame on someone else.

At some point in your life, the dog stops eating your homework. The reality becomes that you weren't able to do the homework in the first place.

So without giving you nightmares on the first Monday of classes, let's explore two very important aspects of failure that may give you comfort when you're faced with it.

First of all, failure can be a temporary phenomenon. For instance, my dad told me that he didn't get into one of his top choice residency programs after medical school. Instead, he opted for a program in Florida, where at least he could play tennis year-round.

While at first glance it may have seemed like failure, I'd have to say it worked out pretty well in the end. At least it did for me: if he hadn't moved to Florida, he would have never met my mom by the pool, and I would never have existed.

I'm sure my dad can't really imagine a life different from the one he's made in Florida. In the end, his initial "failure" was really another f-word: Fate. It just needed a little time to reveal itself.

In the limited wisdom of my 21 years, I also hold another belief about failure: it's not a matter of what happened, but how you dealt with it. Everyone reading this paper, indeed everyone at this school, will face rejection at some point in his or her life. While some experiences will be more distressing than others, we cannot escape them.

Given this fact, failure becomes a natural occurrence and doesn't differentiate you from one person to the next. It's the time following the rejection or the short-coming that provides an opportunity for failure.

If you take a step back, reexamine your goals, and learn how to blame yourself sometimes, then failure really does not exist.

In that critical window of time, you can either accept failure or refuse it. If you refuse to let one short-coming lead to another, then you can walk away almost unscathed.

Remember how teachers used to tell you that it's not a mistake if you learn from it and don't let it happen again?

They were right.

So, as we start another year at U.Va., recognize what it really means to fail. It's not a letter grade or a grad school rejection. It's letting your head hang down so low that your eyes can't see the next opportunity coming along.

And if you're walking to class in Cabell while reading this paper, you may want to look up anyway.

Those old white columns can come out of nowhere.

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