Last Friday, my worst nightmare came true – I failed an important licensing exam. I remember hovering over my boyfriend’s shoulder while he entered my log-in information, and seeing the same bright letters a first, second, and third time before it sunk in – I had failed. “How the f*ck is this possible?!,” I screamed and threw myself to the hardwood floor, convulsing into a fit of sobs. My boyfriend picked me up and held me tightly. I couldn’t breathe. I was immobilized – trapped in the thick reality of failure. This wasn’t a bad dream that I could awake from – this was life.
To make matters worse, the list of people who passed was made public a couple days later. How could I face my boss and co-workers on Monday? Would I be fired? How could I ever show my face around other industry professionals? Now what?
For the first couple hours, I was in denial and isolated myself. I was so broken. I couldn’t look at my phone for at least three hours after reading my result for fear of seeing “I passed!” texts and Google chat messages. Luckily, I deactivated my Facebook a few days before.
Then I was angry. I studied my a** off during the two months preceding the exam – working overtime. I forfeited outings with friends, locked myself in my apartment, and did as many practice tests and problems as humanly possible. I listened to an anti-test anxiety guided meditation every night (I have extremely bad text anxiety). I maintained my composure during the exam. What did I do wrong?
Next, I was depressed. I didn’t have the will to endure the isolating process, and put myself through the same high-stress environment – only to fail again. How was I supposed to remain calm and clear-headed enough to pass without having daily breakdowns? I had no idea.
But I let myself grieve and cry for a couple days. I also leaned heavily on my support system. My boyfriend assured me that everything was going to be OK and he was proud of me. My best friend called me every day to confirm that I was still alive. My friends, both those who passed and those who didn’t, offered encouraging words and listening ears.
I’m naturally self-deprecating, especially during failure. I’ve adopted an illogical notion that if I demean myself and don’t derive any joy from life until I complete a goal, I’ll achieve it because I deserve to. But I’m tired of beating myself up for no reason. It quickly becomes an ugly cycle of fear and self-loathing, and feeling out of control. Like my dad said (during a rare moment of fatherly advice), if I don’t stay positive and calm, I’ll fail again.
It’s been nearly a week since I found out I failed and I’m surprisingly calm. The world didn’t end, and my head didn’t implode. I’m not jolting out of my bed in a panic in the middle of the night. I’m not emotionally unstable. I’ve accepted my reality.
Although I wish I hadn’t failed this particular exam, I’m glad I finally learned that my self-worth isn’t dependent on my accomplishments or failures. I’m still the same person I was before the results were announced. Why not be kind to myself and enjoy the journey?