An Unexpected Lesson from Failing a Class

I took an honors writing class in college that had a big impact on me. This was largely thanks to the professor.

It was an interesting situation because I had failed this class the first time I took it, and was now re-taking it to fulfill a credit requirement. I could have taken either of the two lower-level options to ensure I would pass and reduce my workload, but I liked writing and I generally prefer to challenge myself. Plus, I didn’t fail the first time because of my work, but because of a lack of participation as a result of not attending class regularly (oops!). My first semester of college was an all-around great learning experience, during which I learned many new things, including the importance of attending classes. Or at least those that require participation…

So here I was taking the same class, yet again, though with a different professor—and boy, did that end up making all the difference. I do love writing, but, to be honest, I was not exactly happy about having to re-take a class I should have aced based on my marks on all of the assignments, which I had completed in full and on time. But there was nothing I could do except move forward, go to class and keep myself motivated any way I could to ensure I didn't repeat this mistake.

During this class, we completed many assignments that I truly enjoyed, which helped keep me engaged. We also completed weekly free-writing assignments, for which we could write about any topic we chose (literally—we didn't even have to write in English). I often wrote about things that were happening in my life, since those were topics that came to me readily, and I often found writing about them to be a good way to organize my thoughts and sometimes release pent-up emotions. So, I wrote about personal things that I would normally not share with anyone, trusting that my professor would read them in confidence. These essentially got graded for completion, but he often left comments, so I knew he was actually reading them. At one point toward the end of the semester, he made a comment—I wish I had saved it, but I lost access to the platform a while back—that was something to the effect of, “I can tell you learn from every experience you have, and apply it to other aspects of your life.” And I’m really paraphrasing here, but there was also something about how many people go through life on a sort of auto-pilot and that it was refreshing to see someone, especially at my age, who was mindful and intentional about not taking her experiences for granted.

This meant a lot to me to hear coming from someone I really respected, especially at an age and time in my life when I often felt lost and got down on myself for not ‘having it all together.’ But more importantly, I reflected on his comment and how important this practice truly is, which consequently helped me become even more conscious of the way my experiences affect me. I reflected on the fact that our experiences—and how we respond to them—are what shapes each and every one of us. I have tried hard in my life to take something from every experience, and look at negative experiences in a positive light, because those are often the ones that teach us the most.

Since taking his class, I've had many others I'm close to make similar comments, and I personally consider it one of my greatest attributes. It’s because of this ability to reflect deeply on myself and the experiences I’ve gone through that I was able to look at where I was in my career, compared to my goals, and decide that I needed to make some major changes to find happiness. It’s also because of this that I got fired from a job at which I had never really been happy, and was able to view it as a positive learning experience and an opportunity to more easily make the changes I desperately needed.

To this day, I doubt that that professor has any idea what a profound impact these couple of sentences in a gradebook had on my life. Or that he realizes how greatly his class not only improved my writing skills, but helped me realize both my potential and passion for writing—especially when it comes to topics I find interesting! In his class I learned many new writing techniques and was pushed to explore and analyze many thought-provoking texts. These transferable skills have served me well in many situations and I know they'll continue to do so, but nothing taught in a textbook can compare to the life lesson and perspective I walked out of his classroom with.

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