Back in high school, I eagerly anticipated acquiring my driver’s license. I vividly remember the day of my road test. While backing up during my parallel park, the tires kept hitting the curb. I just couldn’t seem to get the angle right. When I signaled my intention to pull out so I could try again, the windshield wipers turned on. It felt like I was fumbling with the controls for an eternity, trying to figure out how to turn them off. All the while, my examiner stared at me—it was a bit humiliating. When I finally figured it out and pulled out, my examiner instructed me to return to the location where the test began. I was angry and upset. I wasn’t being given another chance at the parallel park. I knew I had failed.
As I signaled to make my final left turn, the car suddenly jerked to a halt. Thankfully, my examiner had hit the brakes. It took me a moment to realize that I was about to turn into oncoming traffic. I had been so upset that I was not paying attention to the road. I left the test feeling disappointed in myself. However, reflecting back, I realized that this experience taught me two essential lessons. First, never make a left turn into oncoming traffic. Second, always pay close attention to the road because there can be serious consequences for not doing so.
Flash forward about a decade, and I was about to sit for my oral board exam in Emergency Medicine. I had done well on the written boards, but the oral boards were an entirely different animal. In this exam, a seasoned physician asks you questions about how you would care for multiple patients at once. It was intimidating. A few weeks later, my score report arrived in the mail. As I read the letter, I was disappointed. I had failed—not by much, but I had failed.
I studied diligently and scheduled a retake of the test. I am happy to say that I passed the second time. Contemplating this experience, I realized that although I failed, I had gained a lot. While studying for my retake, I became much better at organizing my thoughts in order to be more efficient when caring for multiple patients simultaneously. I also learned a lot more about medicine that I know also allowed me to provide better care to my patients.
I hope these stories demonstrate that failures—as long as you learn something from them—are good. Of course, you are likely to be disappointed if you fail, which is normal. However, if you take something away from your failures and learn how to do something better, then failure is great. Failures are how we learn and improve. They can be thought of as stepping stones or springboards to success. In fact, I’ve heard that the most successful people in life are also the people that have experienced the greatest number of failures.
If you experience a failure, learn something from it and move on.
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