One of the many times I experienced failure at school was when I couldn’t score well in Hindi. Despite working hard, I couldn’t perform well in that subject. One of the many times I experienced success at school was when I scored well in Mathematics. It was one of those subjects where my hard work successfully materialized into good scores.
Until school, I defined failure in terms of the marks I scored in an examination. It didn’t matter how hard I worked, how many sleepless nights I invested in my academics, or how many sacrifices I made to prepare for an examination. It didn’t matter how I scored what I scored. The only thing that mattered was how much I scored. If that ‘how much’ were any bit less than what I had aimed for, then I would consider myself a failure.
Such an understanding implied that I considered marks as the only parameter to judge one’s success. Throughout school, I believed in this definition of failure and success. Such a definition caused no harm till I continued to score well. However, it took only one bad performance to shake my self-confidence and lower my self-esteem.
I prioritized marks to such an extent that it began to take a toss on my mental health. It was only then that I began to question my understanding of failure and success, thereby identifying toxicities in it.
Firstly, it was unfair to conclude I was a failure based on the result of any examination. I was promoting a culture that believes in marks being the only determiner of success in academic and professional life. Secondly, it was unfair to negate my hard work, and obedience based on the result of any examination. I was being severely critical of myself in an unhealthy and unconstructive manner. Thirdly, it was unfair to focus only on the results and not the learning experience. I was communicating that only the destination matters, not the journey, i.e., what matters is only how much you score, not what you learn.
I took my own sweet time to see through the flaws in my thought approach. It took me a long time to burst my bubble and arrive at a definition of failure and success that was much more holistic, one that was willing to see beyond marks. It was then that I realized that life is not a race but a marathon. We are not a failure if we are unable to achieve a specific score in an examination. Even though the system is rigged to favour those who score well and discriminate against those who don’t, we are still much more than the marks that we score. We are our hard work, and passion. We are our experiences and our learnings.
Written by Shivanshi Khanna ( Young India Fellow ’22)