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Confronting failure

Why I decided against transferring out of the University

As much as I’ve matured since beginning my journey at the University — especially in recognizing my own worth — I still struggle to forgive myself for the times I’ve hopelessly failed.

Failure can assume many different forms — it can exist tangibly or on a more abstract level. But it is demoralizing regardless of the specifics. The implications of failing an exam, for instance, are completely different from those which accompany being rejected by a group of friends — but irrespective of how it manifests, failure can damage a person severely.

Though I cherish the knowledge and experience I’ve gained from being at the University, I’ll be the first to admit my repeated failures tied to U.Va.’s high standards of excellence have frequently made me question if it’s all “worth it.” Around this time a year ago, I grew so fed up with my substandard social and academic performances, I convinced myself it would be in my best interest to transfer schools.

Looking back, my failures themselves did not make me want to transfer. Rather, I was pushed by my inability to reconcile positive and realistic perspectives to my situation. That is, I didn’t want to label myself as a failure, but at the same time, it didn’t make sense to assure myself I was on the path to success when the facts spoke for themselves.

Taking on an attitude of blind optimism would have only made me feel as if I was in denial of my shortcomings — and what would I really have gained from that?

So, since I was caught between a rock and a hard place, I figured the only direction to go was out of Charlottesville. I craved for my strengths to be praised rather than blatantly dismissed, as they so often seemed overshadowed by those who achieved more than me. I needed to find an environment that would encourage me to thrive instead of shutting me down in the face of competition. But I stayed.

I didn’t stay because my undying love for the University held me back, or because I convinced myself things would get better. I stayed because I realized enduring failure plays a big role in defining character — even if the results of it aren’t immediately obvious.

I learned that when I fail, I am faced with one of two options — work harder towards the same goal or quit and pursue something else. Either way, I am not making the wrong decision: choosing the former demonstrates endurance, and the latter resilience.

Luckily, there is a vast array of alternatives for University involvement. For every club I get denied from, there are ten more that would love to have me. Likewise, for every class I do poorly in, there will be future semesters where I can make up for my failed efforts in subjects I am more passionate about.

Perhaps an optimist would say failure shouldn’t define you — I can acknowledge the positive sentiment, but disagree. Failure does inevitably define you, as it should, but perhaps this does not mean failures are meant to break you.

Though failure is something that periodically afflicts us all, it possesses the power to make stronger despite how painful it may seem. I know I am not the only one who has failed at some point or another at the University, and I certainly won’t be the last — but I would guess we are all here in part because we’ve proven we’re tough enough to endure these kinds of harsh realities.

Vega’s column runs biweekly Tuesdays. She can be reached at