Success Begins with the Letter F
Rachel Stephens

When I think of failure, a quote from Michael Jordan comes to mind: "I've failed over and over and over again in my life... and that is why I succeed."

Personally, I have had many experiences with failure, and I’m only 16. The truth is that everyone fails at some point in their life; failure is nothing to be afraid of, or ashamed of. Admittedly though, I am – or at least I was up until about a month ago – which is when I started doing my interviews for this article. As you’ll read in the following pages, I’ve interviewed school leaders and teachers, who I’ve learned to respect over the years, and invited them to tell me about a time when they failed. It could be a job loss, receiving an ‘F’ on a test, failed relationships, or anything else that they perceived as a failure. Through my interviews, I’ve come to realize that everyone fails; everyone has disappointments; everyone has moments when they question themselves. In fact, it’s very possible that failure could be the best thing that could happen to someone! Because one cannot succeed without failure. But, like Michael Jordan, those failures are the very reason they have succeeded.


Long before Mr. Stephens was the Head of School he was a Grade 5 teacher, a coach, and was working on organizing Southridge’s athletic program. Mandy Richmond, who had been Head of the Junior School at that time, had just left the school and her position was available. Mr. Stephens was eager to apply for the job but he, unfortunately, did not end up getting the position. Upon hearing this he felt disappointed, as most people do when they don’t get a job they want; but with this “failure” came a valuable learning opportunity. He learned to not give up and to continue looking for opportunities for growth, and he became motivated to learn more about leadership. It was the failure of not getting the Head of Junior School job that partly shaped him into the amazing Head of School that we know today!

In talking to Mr. Stephens, I learned that we should be open to the fact that sometimes we learn more from our failures than our successes. “Failures present opportunities to allow us to reflect on who we are, not only from a knowledge or skillset perspective, but who we are as people. Failures allow us to identify areas for further growth and development which tends to help us become well-rounded individuals.”


At the age of 14, Mrs. de Hoog had been playing piano for six years. She had a piano recital that she had been practicing a lot for. But, unfortunately, when she went on stage to perform her piece, she couldn’t get through the first five bars! No matter how many times she restarted, she could not get past those first five bars. Feeling both devastated and humiliated, she quit the piano. After growing up and learning to appreciate the mistake that she made, Mrs. de Hoog learned that when something doesn’t go as planned, don’t quit. Quitting the piano is a regret that she holds to this day.

“When we experience a failure, that’s when we must dig deep and figure out what we should learn to move forward. Many people look at failure as a negative thing but we must look at it as an opportunity because, in the end, failure is how we learn.”


In Mr. Smith’s first semester at Douglas College, he wasn’t earning the best marks. His report card consisted of three ‘C’s’ in all his academic courses, and an ‘A’ in PE. When he looked at his report card, he saw that his marks were ridiculous – he was basically failing out of college in his first year! At that point, he decided to turn the corner and he became determined to work hard. When he received a perfect score on his geology test, he finally believed that he could complete college. He had studied long and hard for his test and it showed in his grades – but he had to fail first before he could succeed.


When Mr. Anderson was a young adult, he tried out for the Canadian National Basketball team and was disappointed to find out that he didn’t make it. But it was this failure that pushed him to work even harder to make the team the following year. Through this failure he learned how to set a goal for himself, and how to follow it through. In the end, he didn’t want the failure to define who he was and that revealed his true character. “You will have failures, but if you have the right attitude and put in the effort, then anything can be possible.”


When Ms. McNeil was doing her teaching degree at university she had to take a computer course. During this course she was tasked with several mini projects that were supposed to only take fifteen minutes – but they ended up taking her two hours! She was feeling frustrated throughout the entire course; the projects were taking too long and the professor had no idea what the class was doing. Through this, Ms. McNeil learned to never give up and to push through – after all, if it was easy, she wouldn’t have learned anything. Her setbacks ended up teaching her about confidence and perseverance. She ended up helping all her fellow classmates and discovered that teamwork is sometimes the easiest way to achieve a goal.


When Mrs. Ridley-Thomas was in Grade 8 she had a horrific French teacher, who humiliated her in front of her class because she mispronounced a few words. In that moment, she felt like a failure because the whole class, including the teacher, laughed at her! Upon reflection, she realized that it wasn’t she who had failed, it was her teacher. Through her teacher’s failure Mrs. Ridley-Thomas learned that she should never make a student feel uncomfortable and always make sure they feel good about themselves. In fact, the failure of her Grade 8 teacher inspired Mrs. Ridley-Thomas to become the best possible teacher she could be.


To Ms. Baranszky-Job, the failures that she has experienced tend to be around the ending of relationships or friendships because those experiences make her feel as if she’s done something wrong. Whenever she experiences something like this, she feels that she has failed to keep her past friendships together and always feels that she could have done more. But as she’s matured, she has come to love what she’s learned about herself and love what her past friendships have given her. Consequently, she doesn’t feel that ending a relationship is a failure anymore.

“Failures build resilience and if you don’t fail you’re not living your life to the fullest. A person who doesn’t fail isn’t truly evolving into the best possible person that they can be. But most importantly, a person who doesn’t allow themselves to fail can be harmful to others with their pride.”


Mr. Shaw had many failures surrounding academics when he was a kid in high school because of his dyslexia and ADHD. School was hard for him and the system never fit him very well, which led to him feeling dumb (as many of us do at times). He felt like a failure. But through this perceived failure and through this experience he learned that there are many ways to learn – he just had to find out what way was best for him! “Everyone learns differently, no two people are the same.” Through this experience he found different ways to become successful. Since the traditional ways of schooling and teaching didn't work for him, he had to be resourceful and figure out how to do things differently. In the end, this inspired him to become a teacher. Today, he has empathy and understanding for his students because he knows they each learn differently. He has personally experienced the challenges that kids go through and the hardships that they face.


During the 2016-2017 senior girl’s basketball season, Mr. Chiarenza experienced a failure during the first round of provincials. Southridge had been playing their best game of the season and, by the last minute of the game, had a 68-67 lead. During that last minute of play, he made a few final decisions which he believes cost them the game – the team lost with only one second left. The loss left him feeling a range of emotions, changing from anger to disappointment. Due to that loss, Mr. Chiarenza grew as a coach; learning that he can’t underestimate what’s in a person’s heart compared to their skill sets.

“As a community, we should want failure because failure, evidently, leads to happiness. We can’t appreciate happiness unless we’ve failed. There’s no greater smile than the seventy percent math student who gets the ninety – it far supersedes the kid who gets a ninety every time. It’s important to understand that one can grow and that there are better things on the horizon. All everyone wants is to be inspired and to watch people overcome their failures and to grow because of them – there is no greater inspiration.”


With all this talk about failure, I took time to reflect on my own. Since eighth grade, I’ve struggled with anxiety. While this could be considered a failure, I prefer to recognize it as a challenge – a challenge that I’ve learned to overcome. Like Mr. Shaw, I’ve discovered that there are different ways to learn. Southridge has been great at helping me through my challenge and I’m no longer ashamed of how my brain works. My “failure” has helped me become more resilient. So, while it may seem like my “failure” is a setback, it has in fact, helped me become the best possible version of myself that I can be.

Failures are not bad, in fact, they’re some of the best things that can happen to a person. And regardless of how “successful” a person appears to be, I guarantee at some point in their life, they have experienced a failure. I bet they’ll also attribute that failure, in some way, to their success. Failure is what makes each of us grow and mature; it makes us resilient; it gives us perspective, and ultimately, it makes us better people. As far as I’m concerned, with these outcomes, failure just sounds like another word for success. So, bring it on!

By Rachel Stephens, Grade 12

From the Spring 2018 Spirit Magazine