Letter tiles spelling out “failure.” Making mistakes and screwing up are central features of being a person. JEFF DJEVDET/FLICKR VIA CC BY SA 2.0

I failed a class for the first time in my life last semester. I didn’t even come close to passing — I got a straight-up F.

There’s nothing I can complain about. We reap what we sow, and I put just about zero effort into that class for three months and change.

Getting that grade back was an awful, humiliating feeling. It was also one of the best things that happened to me in 2018.

I spent six months struggling with some slowly worsening depression issues. I brushed them off the entire time, stubbornly invalidating that growing malaise by telling myself it wasn’t as bad as a few years ago.

One look at that F on SOLAR made me realize how wrong I was, and how long I’d gone without doing anything about a significant issue. If it weren’t for that bad grade, I wouldn’t have gotten help over the break.

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This is far from the first time I’ve experienced failure. I’ve dropped out of school, I’ve been turned down for a job at Dunkin’ Donuts for crying out loud. I’ve struggled mightily with mental illness and watched some of my closest friends spiral down to oblivion and never get back up, completely powerless to do anything for them.

I have faith that my struggles can serve a greater purpose, but it strikes me as arrogant to say everything happens for a reason. Friends of mine were dealt far worse hands than I, to say nothing of the estimated 795 million people on this Earth who don’t get enough food to live a healthy life. The view from my glass house isn’t too bad.

Still, I haven’t experienced hardship that hasn’t been the direct cause of some sort of silver lining, some not-infinitesimal positive down the line. My life’s most powerful lessons were born from the pain of failing to achieve something. I doubt I’m the only one.

That story about Michael Jordan getting cut from his high school basketball team is repeated so often it’s lodged itself into our motivational vernacular. It’s also not exactly true. Everybody knows Albert Einstein worked as a patent clerk while he worked on theories that would revolutionize scientific thought. Again, the word “clerk” is a little bit of an undersell here. It’s not quite a lie, but it’s not quite the truth either.

But facts aside, there’s a reason anecdotes like those resonate with people. It’s the same reason Steve Jobs called getting fired from Apple the best thing that ever happened to him.

Failure isn’t the opposite of success. It’s a step in the journey. All those insufferable business types that spew motivational junk like that are actually right.

Making mistakes and screwing up are central features of being a person. It’s what happens in the aftermath that determines whether any of that hardship was worthwhile. So while the semester kicks off, just remember that even though things almost certainly won’t go according to your plan, with a little work those dark experiences might prove to be your most valuable.

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