Learning to Fail Better

Could "failure classes" teach us all a lesson?

A new initiative at Wimbledon High School offers its girls a seemingly perverse solution to encouraging success: ‘Failure Week’. Pupils in Wimbledon will attend lectures, workshops and seminars on underachievement. Teachers and parents have been specifically invited to share their own experiences of failure.

The idea of  ‘Failure Week’ may seem novel, but I doubt it will work. In the words of Oscar Wilde “nothing that is worth knowing can be taught”.

…let me get what I want. 

We are members of a University whose binary accept/reject admissions policy condemns many as ‘failures’. Elly Nowell’s letter to Magdalen College in the Other Place attempted to invert popular conceptions of success in December 2011, emphasizing for a brief time that achievement can be relative.

She has no place at Magdalen, but she managed to comment on dichotomous views of success and failure in a national newspaper.

Like Elly Nowell, I failed to earn a place at Oxford. Unlike Elly Nowell, it took a while for me to talk about my REJECTION, let alone capitalize it in an article. The letter that informed me of my disappointment actually arrived as an email attachment, and subsequently entered the public domain without my knowledge.

Everyone knowing, and my assumption that everyone cared, was perhaps worse than the rejection itself. Failure is best kept a dirty little secret, right?

I went to a school that encouraged success at any cost – to have suggested the possibility of failure would have been to invite it. My fruitless application taught me my first lesson about inadequacy. Where I let myself down was in thinking that failure itself was unacceptable and irredeemable.

On the one hand this story is in the three-year process of ending happily. On the other, I have definitely received an internship rejection in the last hour.

I wish Wimbledon High every success with its initiative: admitting and attesting to underachievement is a bold step within the pressures of a school environment. But ultimately failure requires more personal reflection, and only then a public response.

  • just one thing

    Elly Nowell's letter didn't do any of those things you credited it with. It set the Access cause back significantly, gave her fifteen minutes of fame and reinforced stereotypes that no longer ring true, just because she was afraid of being rejected again. For a whole number of reasons, her letter was complete and utter bollocks. It wasn't Elly herself that managed to comment on success and failure, it was the backlash her ridiculous antics received.

    • Churchill admissions

      Plus, if she was really intimidated by lovely architecture, there were all sorts of places she could have applied to.

  • pleasepleaseplease

    can the articles be longer? Why is everything on the Tab now ridiculously short, so that writers can barely make multiple points and all of the articles seem like superficial glances at what could be more interesting, detailed and ambiguous issues? – Not criticising the writers here – I'm assuming that everyone's opinions haven't all fallen to a ridiculously low word count simultaneously…

  • Oscar Wilde

    I didn't really mean that. Should have thought that quote through a bit more.

  • Anna Isaac

    Only "cunts" write such articles.

  • Stressed

    Thank you very much for this. A bit of perspective I definitely needed!

  • B2's Lu

    If people want to learn how to fail better they should head to B2. If anything I fail too much!

  • How about

    it's about seeing what you can learn from failure and acknowledging that you WILL fail at some point in your life. Probably at lots of points. If you're going to fail you might as well make the most of it and see what you can learn. Every decent sports person knows that.

  • perhaps

    Hmm I wonder if failure week is really to teach Wimbledon girls that failure is not the end of the world. It's not whether you get knocked down, but whether you get back up. I think Cambridge especially would benefit from this kind of thing, as nearly everyone here is a ridiculously high achiever and it's likely that many of us have not really experienced how to deal with proper failure. This is likely to be one of the reasons that those who get into work difficulties struggle to get it back under control – they're not used to coping with it.

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