I Failed, and That's Okay

A woman covering her face with a textbookWritten by: Ellita Gagner, 4th Year Music Student

Photo by: Siora Photography on Unsplash

When I was in my first year, I put a huge expectation on myself to maintain the average I had in high school. I knew that this was uncommon, and everyone told me that it’s normal to drop 10-20% in first year, but I was determined to be the exception; if I worked hard enough then I could do it. I think that’s why it was such a huge blow to me when I failed a quiz for the first time.

It was a first-year music dictation course where you write down what a recording plays. It was two voices and was something I had never done before. I’ve always learned music by ear and as a singer, never had to translate what I heard into sheet music. The course was moving faster than I was expecting and I was still getting used to the academic intensity of university. It got to be the day of the quiz and I was nauseous thinking about missing important points on the first listen through of the example. I came out of it feeling awful. When we got the grades back a couple of weeks later, I saw 35% in my OWL grade book and cried. It was the first academic thing that I had failed.

I don’t want to say that it gets easier because I don’t believe that, I think that university is hard, and by acknowledging that, it validates the moments when we as students have struggles. That quiz was a low point academically for me, but from there I was pushed to contact my TA, forced to re-evaluate the way that I was studying and learn that one failure didn’t define my intelligence or worth. I’m still not the best at dictation, but I passed, staying in the median of my class both years in that course that was unfortunately mandatory. It’s not shameful to fail sometimes, it’s a testament that you can get through failure. I’m in my fourth year now and have never loved music more. Looking back, that failed quiz means nothing to my musicianship today. If I had one word of advice, it would be that even if you don’t see it, most of the people around you have faced failure in their life, you’re not alone and this state will not be permanent for you. This one failure means so much less than all the success you’ll see in your years at Western!

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