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Dear Frosh: I wish I'd known failure was okay

Jenna Johnson

Today's advice for college freshmen is from Steven Bell, a library administrator at a research university.

I wish I had known that it was all right to fail.

StevenBell.jpgMy first semester out of the gate was pretty much a disaster. Doesn't really matter much where I was or what I tried. The bottom line is that I tanked, and my GPA was so low that I thought the only thing to do was quit. I tried blaming it on bad high school preparation. I wanted to blame it on the teachers. Someone was supposed to help me, but didn't. For a long time I was driven almost completely by a total fear of failure. In time I came to realize that it was probably a combination of all of them, but mostly my own lack of passion for what I was learning - and that in not caring there was no reason to commit myself to learning. 

I wish I had known that it was all right to fail. It was probably the best thing because it forced me to explore the curriculum and expose myself to completely new subjects and ideas. I couldn't do any worse, and in a way that liberated me to learn. It took some time but eventually I found something that really intrigued me. I wanted to learn more about it, and I found that I enjoyed the research required to do that. I was pretty bad at it at first, but I pushed myself to do better - and I found a few professors who took the time to help. 

It all led me to my current profession, and I've been working in the field continuously for over 30 years. If I hadn't failed that first semester I might have never discovered what I'm really passionate about. If you do as badly as I did the first time out, don't give up. You've got a few years to redeem yourself, but start by asking for help. I wish I had know that it's all right to do that too.

What do you wish you had known as a freshman? E-mail me your short essay (less than 300 words) and it might be featured on the blog. Read previous essays here.

Campus Overload is a daily must-read for all college students. Make sure to bookmark http://washingtonpost.com/campus-overload. You can also follow me on Twitter and fan Campus Overload on Facebook.

By Jenna Johnson  | September 21, 2010; 9:59 AM ET
Categories:  College 101  | Tags:  Dear Frosh  
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