On Failure (Personal)

Tuesday, May 31, 2011 :: Tagged under: pablolife. ⏰ 2 minutes.


Hey! Thanks for reading! Just a reminder that I wrote this some years ago, and may have much more complicated feelings about this topic than I did when I wrote it. Happy to elaborate, feel free to reach out to me! 😄


To contrast to the other part of this double-post, let's talk about something a little more familiar to the folk at home: failing at life. This is prescient to me because of this:

My Brown degree.

That is my degree from Brown University, a combined BS in Computer Science/BA in Music. But didn't I graduate last year?

Well, technically no. Despite passing higher-level neuroscience and graduate-level programming languages, I failed high school calculus, which was a prerequisite to studying computer science at Brown. Not a requirement, mind you: a prerequisite. Meaning that in theory, I needed to complete it before being allowed to study computer science.

(the resolution, if you don't know, is that I took the course over the summer, and passed. Because of this, I didn't graduate in the class of 2010, but technically in the class of 2011 as a "non-enrolled student.")

What surprised me most, and (what I think) is the most valuable lesson I got from Brown, is that failing hard is one of the best things that can happen to you. Only when you're kicked in the teeth and actually pushed to your limit do you know what it means to truly confront your demons, your weaknesses, and test your actual mettle.

Put another way: it's unlikely that you're proud of taking a shower this morning, or that you look back fondly on the last time you tied your shoes. Those presented no challenge; completing those tasks gave you no new knowledge of the world, and no new knowledge of yourself. If you think back to anything you're proud of, it's almost always been a challenge.

The fact that hard things are what make you proud isn't really anything new (nor was it before I failed). The key realization for me was understanding that failing presents a much more heightened sense of accomplishment. To wit, I was incredibly proud of my high school production of Arcadia; but no matter how hard or challenging that was, I'll always be more proud of the fact that I'm programming professionally, if only because I was already good at acting/directing, and had never been bad at it. Leaving your comfort zone and being truly uncomfortable is a growth experience too many bright people won't experience.

They have a saying in software testing: a successful test case is one that finds a bug in the program. This means that when you test software, you remove all formalities of being a kind or understanding person and put on a different hat, thinking to yourself "what's the meanest, cruelest thing I can do to this software? How can I BREAK THE SHIT OUT OF THIS."

It's a good thing to do this in life as well. Don't be stupid, but for the good of you, take a risk every once in a while. You'll never be more proud.

Thanks for the read! Disagreed? Violent agreement!? Feel free to drop me a line at , or leave a comment below! I'd love to hear from you 😄