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How do you interpret failure? Is failing at something a ticket to nowhere, or is it an opportunity to find ways to move forward and persevere?
It depends on how you look at it.
That was the message of the Barrett, The Honors College Failure Showcase held February 5 at Barrett’s Tempe campus. The showcase featured members of the Barrett Honors Community speaking about how they overcame failure.
“We need to reframe what we believe failure to be,” said Shea Alevy, Barrett, The Honors College assistant director of student services.
When grappling with feelings of failure, we can adopt a growth mindset or a fixed mindset, Alevy said.
A fixed mindset leads one to believe there is no positive recourse when experiencing failure. A growth mindset focuses on how reframing challenges with positive, rather than negative, thoughts can lead to success, Alevy explained.
“A growth mindset means learning from your mistakes and applying that knowledge to what comes next,” Alevy said.
Failure Showcase speakers wove the theme of learning and growing into their presentations.
Jacquie Black-Harding, Barrett, The Honors College faculty assistant, spoke about the challenges she faced when trying to complete a university degree while pursuing a career as an opera performer.
Black-Harding attended six community colleges and universities and faced financial hardship before she obtained undergraduate and master’s degrees. She auditioned many times for singing roles before being chosen to perform in opera and musical theater productions.
“I had to be diligent and determined to get where I wanted to go, but what I learned is that what seems to us to be bitter trials are often blessings,” Black-Harding said.
“Make sure to take the time to learn from your failures and to realize they can lead to success,” Black-Harding added.
Honors Faculty Fellow and Faculty Chair, Mary Ingram-Waters, spoke about the challenges she had has in seeking faculty leadership opportunities.
She put her name forward to chair a faculty search and hiring committee and was rejected by a vote of her colleagues.
“I couldn’t believe it. I’m a feminist and an anti-racist and I thought I was the one to help hire diverse faculty,” Ingram-Waters said.
But then she realized that she hadn’t positioned herself for a leadership role by sharing her successes and portraying herself as a positive, organized, resourceful and tenacious member of the honors faculty who offered ideas and solutions.
Ingram-Waters made a concerted effort to let other faculty know about her work and successes. She was more mindful about how she portrayed herself and focused being a positive force and offering solutions when needed.
Later, Ingram-Waters was asked to apply for the position of faculty chair and by a vote of the faculty was chosen for the job.
The lesson here: “Be mindful of how you present yourself and show others that if you are going to identify a problem, be willing to present a solutions,” Ingram-Waters said.
Honors Faculty Fellow Don Fette spoke about how he overcame a difficult childhood to become a happy and productive adult. He found solace in sports and education.
“School was a place where I was awarded for my achievements and where people were supportive. All of that negative energy that could have destroyed me, I channeled it into positive things like football and school,” Fette said.
Shawna Michelle, a sophomore in Barrett, The Honors College, recounted how she had a negative experience while studying abroad in Belgium when she was unable to connect with her host family.
She experienced anxiety and panic over her situation. “I failed at establishing a connection. I failed my program. I nearly failed out of school,” she said.
But on the positive side, Michelle said, she made friends with people outside of her host family and was exposed to a different culture and society, which expanded her perceptions about the world.
Barrett student Shuchi Sharma faced failure when working on her honors thesis, but reexamined her motivations and got back on track.
“I embraced failure and expected success in the end. I realized that if you find something that’s worth pursuing, you should keep going no matter what.”
Ranjani Venkatakrishnan, a Barrett, The Honors College student majoring in journalism, contributed to this story.