Setbacks shape us just as much as success. We shouldn’t hide from them

We all make mistakes or face setbacks. Even the most successful people do it – apparently it took Thomas Edison more than a thousand attempts to make a lightbulb. Actors audition for decades only to later break into Hollywood.

It’s also no secret that life throws us all a curveball. Some of them we share – the Covid-19 pandemic, the cost of living crisis (although both arguably still affected many of us differently).

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Others are more personal. They are challenges that often take place behind closed doors and away from social media timelines.

I was forced to reflect on my own successes and failures recently in the run-up to a student journalism conference held in Glasgow last weekend.

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For this, I was asked to share my experiences and advice on getting into journalism after college and writing for student publications with a panel of three other journalists.

The timing of the conversation was strange. It reminded me of how I felt almost exactly a year ago as I was about to finish my last term paper and dissertation; ready to graduate next month.

It was an exciting time. I had just gotten a job as a reporter; something I had been working toward for the past four years. But it was also a time of uncertainty – of uncertainty as to whether I had made the right decision; what life outside of academia, lectures and seminars and life as I knew it would be like.

The university was in a way a buffer against the “real world”. Of course, I always knew there was a purpose to being there and that this time would eventually end. But my focus has always been on achieving two end results in the short term – graduation and job hunting.

Once achieved, I asked myself what I really wanted for my long-term plans. The world was full of options, but so many that I wondered which were the right ones to find not just what I wanted, but what I needed to be happy. Alongside my concerns, the constant stream of “job signals” and “personal updates” from others making progress in their fields filled my social media timeline.

Fear of graduation and comparing yourself to others is not a new phenomenon. In a survey conducted before the pandemic, student charity Student Minds found that nearly half of all ex-students surveyed said their mental well-being decreased after graduation. They also found that many expressed concerns that they weren’t doing well enough – 44 percent said they felt their friends were better off than they were.

What experts say helps mitigate these concerns — aside from taking frequent breaks from social media to avoid endless comparison with others — is to talk to like-minded people to discover that, no matter what social media make you think they too will face their own challenges.

I recently made the decision to step down from a role I was in. It’s not a decision I regret; It was necessary for me and my well-being, and while it raised many questions about how I will move forward, it also opened up new avenues. In the long term it has made me more confident and confident.

What helped me make the choice in the first place was that other people shared their similar experiences with me. I’ve heard that despite their success, they too have not followed a linear path to get where they are or have done it without challenges.

However, when it came to me speaking about my experiences with audiences of college students — people who may face similar questions about which path to choose after graduation; just like last year – I realized my fear of sharing exactly this unplanned fling in my career path.

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A key reason was the nagging feeling that others were better off. All I needed were the descriptions of the other panelists detailing their work and achievements. Suddenly, the thought of sharing my experience with people who have achieved greater things scared me.

However, I ended up talking about both my successes and my failures. Why? It came about through discussions with the other panellists leading up to the event. Over coffee we poured over what we wanted to say. When I heard that her experiences weren’t free of challenges either, I realized there isn’t one “right” way to do it.

All of this is not to say that I don’t want to see successes shared (quite the opposite, actually!). Despite the detrimental effect that reading “personal messages” and “job signals” can have, I love seeing the people around me achieve great things. I Love she celebrates. I just wish there was more balance and we all were less afraid to share when things don’t go as planned.

Our achievements are what we share, and rightly so. However, the path to them is rarely straightforward. Life doesn’t always go according to plan and it’s the process of trial and error that can teach us so much not only about what we want but also about what we need.

Those setbacks and setbacks can be just as formative as our successes — and I think we should talk more about them.

More transparency not only demystifies the process and helps make certain industries more accessible to people. There is also insight and empowerment that the way forward might be to go backwards, sideways and in circles first – and that’s okay.

Daniella Theis is Scottish Student Journalist of the Year Setbacks shape us just as much as success. We shouldn’t hide from them

Grace Reader

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