“People think that if you have a PhD,
you must have done perfect in school”


In my head, my failures are like dominos falling that somehow create beautiful art. They’re a chain reaction that starts with mistakes and brings me to new lessons and places. For example, failing in my first year of university taught me a lot.

I didn’t do well in my first year. It was a stressful moment of transitioning educational systems, learning in a different space, being an international student in the States from Jamaica and being home sick -five million things going on while not living up to the expectations I had of myself and I believed others of me. I was struggling. I got a ninety-something on my first test in a class and then a thirty-something on the next one. I had to make the painful decision to drop that course. Then I had to find the time and energy to turn around another course and make sure I didn’t fail.

During all of this, I was on scholarships. In the back of my head, I was constantly worrying about making the scholarship GPA’s. In the second semester, I pulled it together and was barely able to meet the GPA needed for the year to stay on my scholarships. I went home to my family absolutely demoralised.

While I was home, I had a talk with myself. I remember sitting at the end of my bed and it was a whole “Okay, you can’t go back next year and do the same thing you did this year, so you have to figure this out now.” It was literally a lecture to myself. I had to assess the journey of my first year and reflect on where I made the right moves and where I made the wrong moves. I knew I had it in me. I had gotten this far and that wouldn’t have happened without the ability to get the job done.

Don’t ask me why, but I somehow had the school catalogue at home with all the course outlines and I finally decided to pick up that book. I felt like the biggest idiot. I said to myself “You just wasted a whole year of your academic life while this book had everything you needed.” Had I looked in that book, I would have taken the right classes; like statistics, instead of things like calculus that I didn’t need. So, I sat there in my room and planned out the next three years of my life.

The plan worked. I got into my doctoral program straight out of undergrad.

Now I am in a space where when something is unpleasant, I think about what I can learn from it. I might not know what the lesson is now, but I’ll learn it later. It’s not easy to find the sweet spot between knowing you will succeed and feeling upset about mistakes and failures, but it’s okay to breathe and say “It’s alright. It will be alright.” The end result might surprise you.  

(Interviewed and written by Alya Somar; photo by Nolan Brinson)
Last StoryBack to Map Next Story