Section: Opinion

In every success story, even failure has a role

My name is Maeve Woollen and I am mulliganing a class in my freshman year. That means I will soon drop out from the class — and let me tell you, I am sick of the sad looks. I took a class in a department  where I thought I could major, tried everything I could, realized my brain was not wired to succeed there and decided to drop the class.

I sat in my professor’s office while he explained to me that I was looking at a D in the class as he handed me the most difficult test of the year, a test that I was taking late due to stress-related illness. Staring at the page that asked me what enzyme bonded with acetylcholine to form AChE, I got angry. I had studied for the test for weeks. I knew every definition and every slide of every presentation, and yet when I sat down with my professor two feet away and a clock ticking, knowing I couldn’t pull my grade up, my anxiety kicked into overdrive and I couldn’t remember the answer.

I thought about how I’d tell my friend how I had flunked a test and probably had to drop the class. I thought about how he’d tell me I probably did better than I thought I did, as he had seen me studying the material for days and days. “No,” I thought about myself saying, “I didn’t. I failed it.” I didn’t know the answers, my brain was wiped clean and I failed it. I don’t want anyone convincing me of anything else, I just want to be okay with the fact that I put in everything and I failed.

At the very end of high school, I received a letter that I wrote to myself at the beginning of freshman year. My freshman-year self asked a lot of questions, but in the end, she just wanted to know if I was proud of myself. Instead of thinking of all that I had accomplished in that time, I thought about the three C’s on my report card, about the guy I had loved and lost the year before and about the friends that had come and gone in the four years since writing that letter. And I felt an overwhelming sense of pride. I survived, I thought to myself, clutching the letter, look at me surviving.

I went to a high school that promoted competition; students compared every test score and PSAT result. As someone who was drawn to that school because of its Quaker values, I was shocked when one of my teachers wrote up the scores of everyone’s test on the board because “a little competition never hurt anyone.” I was deterred from taking two math classes my sophomore year because my advisor said, “You’re giving up an easy A for two Bs.” I held onto that for a while, convincing myself anything below a 90 was a failure. I was getting B’s and C’s, so I decided that I was a failure. It wasn’t until the very end of my senior year that someone would tell me that a B is an above average grade.

They say that “failure is the key to success,” so why don’t we talk about failure more? Why don’t we start celebrating passing, barely scraping by, and facing all the challenges that come with that? Why do we have to succeed 110 percent of the time before we can brag to our friends? I’m tired of only flaunting my successes, of only sharing my A’s and “good jobs!” They don’t tell a full, true story.

Of course there are many accomplishments I’ve made and strides I’ve hit in my lifetime, but I don’t believe they belong in this story. They would just be a cop-out of me trying to cover up the fact that I am imperfect. But I don’t want to cover it up. I want to wave around my test with a fat F circled in red ink. “I AM SURVIVING” I will shout, clutching my failure in my hands, “LOOK AT ME SURVIVING.”

Maeve Woollen ’22 is an undeclared major from Brooklyn, N.Y. You can contact her at


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