Keep Going, Please
August 11, 2014 10:24 AM   Subscribe

What restores your confidence after a significant setback? I need to remind myself why pursuing your passion is worth it when it can be so unpredictable. I'll take anything from deep, meaningful advice to funny motivators.

I'm just about to start a new degree in the arts after years of dreaming about it. I've been told I have talent. Just as I'm about to enter this degree course, I got some pretty bad grades. I'm surprised, my current professors are surprised, my friends are surprised. I've gone from reasonably confident with myself to unsure and anxious.

I don't think this is the end of my world as I know it. I don't think I've made a bad choice. I think I just need to remind myself why pursuing your passion is worth it when it can be so unpredictable. Hopefully hearing how others have overcome these feelings in similar situations will be helpful.

Any and all types of advice are welcome. Thanks.
posted by sapien to Education (14 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
I always use ideas like "The only way a mistake can be failure is if you give up."

It worked for me in terms of my weight loss. I've lost ~100lbs (no medical intervention) and I had a TON of back tracks and falling off the wagon and serious times where I felt like it was impossible. But I just remind myself that the only way I can fail is if I give up. It usually helps. It took many years to get the weight off, but I have gotten as far as I have because I simply kept trying even when felt like nothing was working.

I also use mistakes as a motivator to do better, get back on track, try harder. Rather than beating myself up over the mistakes I get myself all worked up and use those mistakes as a reason to kick some ass.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 10:37 AM on August 11, 2014 [6 favorites]

YMMV, but for me, it's small victories. I know from experience that when I feel down on myself, a small victory (and I do mean small) will get me back on track, so I deliberately look for something that is easy to do (so I'll succeed) and quick to complete (so I'll succeed soon enough for it to help). Doesn't even have to be related. I make a list of quick hits that need to be done, and I start working through them. I love the feeling of crossing things off a to-do list.

In the past, I've: answered an email that had been sitting in my Inbox for a while, made a phone call that I'd been putting off, cleaned my desk, loaded the dishwasher, applied for a job and brushed the dog.
posted by Mogur at 10:53 AM on August 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

I just wanted to say that grades don't matter in the real world.

If you are planning a career in art, there are times when people will recognize your genius and times when the critics will destroy your most heartfelt effort. So get used to that now, if you can. Become determined not only to perfect the art itself, but also to perfect the art of continuous effort.

Also there are times when you are a grasshopper and Master Splinter comes along and whoops your ass so sore. God-damn that hurts! And you say thank you for showing me what I didn't know that I didn't know, Master Splinter and he says "you're welcome, now where is my tea?"

Work hard enough and one day you will be Master Splinter.

Remembering those ideas helps me whenever I'm facing the limits of my knowledge, or skill.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:00 AM on August 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

When I first got out of college I worked as an assistant at a stock brokerage.

This one guy had this goofy metaphor he used when his clients would get worried about market ups-and-downs: He said investing was like walking up a mountain carrying a Yo-Yo.

Which is to say, on a small scale the Yo-Yo is sometimes going up, sometimes going down. But if you pull back and look at the big picture, you're always moving up the mountain, even if progress is so slow it's almost imperceptible.

It's goofy as hell, but that was 1998 and I still think about it.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:01 AM on August 11, 2014 [11 favorites]

This happened to me when I went back to school for a creative field. At first my grades were pretty awful, but they got so much better. Part of it was learning just enough at the beginning to learn how to ask better questions. Part of it was learning to develop a better eye for detail. The hardest part for me was learning the technical skills to put the first two things together, and that took practice.

We had a mantra: you have to crap out so many bad ideas and executions before you get something good. It got to the point where I was really thankful for and amused by all the bad things I produced because it meant I was one step closer to achieving non-suckiness. I saved some of the really bad ones. They're like scout merit badges.

Whenever critique time came around, I prepped beforehand by closing my eyes and saying "These people want to help me. If I don't understand, I'll ask. It will be OK." And it always was.

Oh, and seconding small victories.
posted by Orange Dinosaur Slide at 11:31 AM on August 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

I like to collect stories in the "you never know what's good and what's bad" category. This comes from some darkly humorous thing my sister used to tell where some guy breaks his leg and people lament "that's too bad" and then war breaks out the next day and he is exempt from the draft because of the broken leg. (It was a lot longer than that with bad thing happening, turns out it is a blessing in disguise, new bad thing happens, also blessing in disguise, etc. But that's all I really recall anymore.)

One of my favorites is about Einstein's life:

I don't know of a good online source that tells this story succinctly, but I watched some TV show that outlined some things about Einstein's life. It took a lot of years to prove that his Theory of Relativity had any merit. It required photos take during an eclipse. I believe it needed to be a total eclipse of the sun. There are partial eclipses about every six months, but total eclipses only come around once every few years. The first attempt to take the photos was thwarted, in part because it was WWI and one team was, I think, thrown in jail or something as spies or something. I think there were only two teams. I think it was something like 14 or 16 years later that multiple (maybe 8?) teams went out all over the world and some of them could not get a good shot due to rain or whatever. One team came up with the photo that provided supporting evidence that his theory was correct.

But here is the thing: Had the photo been produced during the first attempt, most likely, we would have never heard of Einstein or the Theory of Relativity because he had an error in his math. In the intervening years between the two attempts, he found the error and corrected it. Had they gotten the pictures the first time around, it would have only proved his math didn't work. He probably only had one shot at it. He became basically immediately famous with those pictures proving him right but had those pictures been taken during WWI, he would have been proven wrong and that likely would have been the end of that.

You might also try looking for films and TV shows with this kind of theme. One film that comes to mind: Mr. Destiny. But this is also a point made in some of the Star Trek episodes that explore alternate timelines, like where Captain Picard wishes he had done a few things differently in the past and Q gives him the chance to make those other choices and he winds up not being a captain. I am sure there are many more. This is a fairly common "morality tale" kind of theme.
posted by Michele in California at 12:06 PM on August 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

Similar to the Einstein story:

Couple years ago, Drew Carey was on Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me, and he told a story that I've shared on here before, of how he had the chance to open for someone big but he missed it, and he had to spend a ton of time perfecting his craft before another big chance came by.

He said he didn't regret missing that one big chance because in retrospect, he wasn't ready for prime time and he thinks he would have had, he said, a much shorter, more flash-in-the-pan career than he's had, if he hadn't missed his first big chance. He wasn't ready and he was spared his own unreadiness.
posted by gauche at 1:10 PM on August 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Perhaps less inspirational than famous-people stories...but I got terrible grades in my first year of law school. No idea why. I worked hard and it had no impact. I asked my professors to help me understand, and one wonderful prof -- now a federal judge -- simply couldn't identify a single difference between my final essay (the worst in the class) and the one that got the top grade. I don't mean I didn't agree with her assessment -- I mean that she said, "Well, the only real change you could have made to improve this [LONG] paper would be to reverse the dependent and independent clauses in this one sentence."

In law school, grades are everything, so my lousy performance limited employment opportunities. I despaired.

Gradually, my grades got better. In fact, the less I cared and the less I tried, the better I did. I got a job doing what I loved after law school, rather than toiling in a high-profile firm. I now teach at a law school that's more highly ranked than the one I attended.

In short, grades are meaningless. And I write that as someone who invests a lot of time in trying to assign fair ones, in a field in which grades are thought of the ultimate indicator of value.
posted by equipoise at 1:35 PM on August 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'll never forget what a friend told me in college when I was pissing and moaning about getting bad grades:

"What do you call someone who graduates from med school at the bottom of his class?"
(pause for effect)
posted by tckma at 1:41 PM on August 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

I failed high school photography, but got accepted to a private art school anyway, where I nearly failed photography 101 (I actually had to re-take it!).

Things got better. Four years later my senior thesis advisor thought my project was a terrible idea... I modified it and it was fine enough. Then I did a mock up of what I had initially wanted to do and the same professor sought me out on my last day of college to admit his error and tell me how good it was.

Sometimes other people - even famous highly qualified ones - are wrong. Also, it took me a semester or two to figure out how to get good marks in art school... Studio work is different than traditional schooling, and figuring out what you personally need to do to get good marks may take time. Hang in there!!
posted by jrobin276 at 3:33 PM on August 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

A couple reminders that have helped me throughout the years (and I'm a college dropout who's achieved what's considered success by many standard measures):

"Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm. "

- Winston Churchill

"You miss every shot you never take." - Michael Jordan

"Failure is the dress rehearsal for success" - somebody
posted by armoir from antproof case at 3:57 PM on August 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

Steve Martin wrote a great book about this issue. Born Standing Up. In it, he says become so good at something that they can't ignore you. No setback can stop you from doing that. It's the craft approach to life.
posted by learnsome at 4:30 PM on August 11, 2014

I like this little poem. And this book [.pdf].

Another thing I find it helpful to remember is that I have to keep putting fuel in the tank. I can't fill it up and then go on a long journey. I have to refill regularly to keep going. I find it easier to get gas if I plan ahead, otherwise I'm panicking and running on fumes and breaking down in the middle of nowhere. Which is to say, keep motivating yourself, even if you don't feel like you need to.
posted by Solomon at 5:22 PM on August 11, 2014

ok but that's Wayne Gretzky's quote actually:

"You miss one hundred percent of the shots you don't take."

sorry my Canadian Pride took over there for a sec
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:31 AM on August 12, 2014

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