Students who want to succeed are often, understandably, afraid of failure. Similarly, parents of students are afraid of seeing their children fall prey to academic failure, since so much of today’s modern society seems to depend on academic success for upward mobility.
Of course, academic failure does not always depend on the student alone. Plenty of students find themselves in situations that thwart their failure, often due to socioeconomic status and issues with education inequality. These are important issues to address in a separate article.
For the purposes of this article, academic failure refers to the inability of a student with access to all necessary resources to forge ahead. The essential question then becomes, how do students get in the way of their own success?
Failure in small doses is actually crucial to learning. However, when students completely fail academically, this means that they are unable to overcome the small failures over time to learn and grow and eventually succeed.
There are many causes of student failure, and these causes could be looked at in various ways. But here are some common reasons for student academic failure, starting with perhaps the most insidious: fear.
Fear of failure, or even fear of success, causes failure. This seems unjust, but it’s unfortunately true. Many students allow their fear to overcome their ability to complete essential tasks that will help them succeed academically.
Some students fear failure, so they neglect their studies and stop trying, hoping that if they do not try then they will not have to feel bad about failing. This kind of fear can occur in students who are overachievers or who do not believe in themselves academically.
Educators can help students overcome their fear of failure by reminding them that they can learn from failure when they experience it.
Other students fear success, which is common among students who are worried about the responsibilities they will face if they succeed or the ways their lives might change once they succeed. They might fear college life or a difficult career if they should succeed. Sometimes students are afraid of leaving others, like family members or friends, behind if they succeed.
These students need to be reminded that they are in control of their lives and can decide how far they go. But if they do not reach their full potential, they will be depriving the world of their gifts.
Other students fail from a lack of preparation. This can sometimes mean that they did not do the work they needed to along the way or put off necessary steps like studying for tests, finishing key assignments, or completing college applications.
Students who lack preparation might have allowed their learning to fall short during school without seeking the help they needed to understand material and now feel they are too behind to catch up.
Often, fear of failure or success can actually lead to a lack of preparation, while other times, students do not prepare for other reasons, like laziness.
Laziness can cause students to fail when they avoid the hard work necessary to succeed academically. Some students never learn how to value hard work or do not practice challenging themselves, so they never get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Sometimes educators and guardians can help students overcome their laziness by trying to instill a great work ethic; however, when students are lazy even after receiving help from adults around them, they will likely fall behind.
Like most skills, valuing hard work and perseverance takes practice. Even the laziest students can learn to work hard if they have the desire, or motivation, to do so.
Sometimes students lack motivation, so they become apathetic. When students are unmotivated, they might feel that academic success doesn’t matter or that they will never achieve it. Students who lack motivation might have experienced a good deal of failure early on in their education and feel there is no point in trying any longer.
These students need to find a “why” when it comes to academic success, a reason that will motivate them to achieve their goals. A motivation can come from a career goal, a desire for a future accomplishment, the hope to be financially stable, or even the desire to give back to the community or family members.
Since failure is a natural part of life and necessary on the way to success, fear of academic failure often happens for students when they have come across a major challenge or roadblock.
With the knowledge that failure is necessary, students can certainly adopt certain mindsets and create habits that help them overcome failure to then reach success. Here are some tips for students to overcome their fear of failure:
Once students can accept failure as part of their academic journey, they might have an easier time facing failure in general. The ironic part of this truth is that the only way to avoid failure is to embrace it. If you can realize that you will absolutely fail in pursuit of success, the idea of failure will no longer feel so scary.
However, it is also important to realize that every failure will require you to overcome. You can fail, but then you must learn from that failure and try again.
In order to deal with failure, you must also have great compassion for yourself. Every human being makes mistakes, so if you make a mistake or find yourself on the wrong path, know that you can always redirect. Beating yourself up will never help you overcome failure, but recognizing why you might have failed and learning from it will always help.
Try to process every failure, allow yourself to heal from it, learn what you need to in order to improve, and then come back with a new approach.
The ability to learn from failure and keep working toward your goals anyway comes from adopting a resilience mindset. This takes practice, but you can train yourself to understand that failure is part of life and then be willing to keep trying anyway.
An important aspect of resilience is the desire to learn from mistakes. Even if you fail, knowing that you can find a solution and work toward your goals in new ways should help you overcome failure.
One way to lessen the fear of failure is to set smaller goals that are more realistic to accomplish. This might mean setting a goal to get a higher grade on your next test or to understand one new concept in a class that is difficult for you.
By achieving small goals that lead you toward a larger academic goal, you will feel more confident along the way and be able to celebrate each accomplishment.
Everyone learns differently, so tips that work for one student might not work for another. That said, all students can benefit from important study tips to help prepare them for success.
With these tips in mind, along with a resilience mindset, there is no reason to fear failure. Utilize your resources and keep working toward your goals. Success is not a straight line! You will fail, but failure is part of the process.
Since 2002, NSHSS has supported young academics on their journey to college and beyond as they prepare to become the leaders of tomorrow. The mission behind NSHSS is to recognize academic excellence and honor high-achieving students, providing them with the resources and network to excel in college, career and community. In doing so, NSHSS connects members with global events, scholarships, college fairs, internships, career and leadership programs, partner discounts, and more. Discover what makes NSHSS worth it to student members and how you can get involved.
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