Failing Up

The following is the text of my Senior Colloquium speech, “Failing Up”, on my former Atychiphobia (fear of failure) and how failure is necessary to achieve success.

Failing Up

I have a confession. I have suffered from a debilitating problem since the age of five. Now, the pronunciation is a little daunting, so bear with me. The name of this condition is: Atychiphobia.  I know, “Gesundheit.” You see, at the age of five, I desperately wanted to fly, and like Michael Jordan in the classic 90s film, I believed I could fly. I spent months in personal flight lessons, leaping off the couch and combatting gravity with handfuls of plastic grocery bags suspended above my head, until finally one day, I was ready. I marched out to the swing set, pumped my legs until I reached the highest altitude possible, and launched myself into the air, soaring for approximately two-point-three seconds before crash-landing onto a pinecone. It was then that Atychiphobia, or the fear of failure, first entered my life.

Flash forward to my freshman year at Wake Forest.  When attempting to impress some new friends in the Babcock lounge with my vast knowledge, I quoted a wise man who once said, “There is nothing to fear but fear itself.” Unfortunately, I attributed this quote to none other than Albus Dumbledore. Nope, it was Franklin Delano Roosevelt. I know that now.

Pretty soon thereafter, in my Evolutionary and Ecological Biology class, I had my first ever college exam. Three months before, I had received a 5 on my AP Bio exam, and I had studied for hours preparing for this next challenge. I had this thing in the bag. Unfortunately, I later found out that bag had a gaping hole in the bottom. I received a 59 out of 100…And that was with a curve.

Zoom ahead to the final call-back round of auditions for the University Theatre’s third Main Stage show of the year, “The Grapes of Wrath.” As a Presidential Scholar in theatre who was already cast in two productions that year, I was feeling confident. Now, I wasn’t expecting to get another big role in this show but because of the large cast size, I must admit I expected to be in the show. Spoiler alert: I was not.

Now, those were just a select few of my biggest “failures” from my first year at Wake Forest. But as it turns out: I actually have these Failures to thank for my greatest successes that year, and thereafter. If I had been cast in that play, I would not have auditioned for the Anthony Aston Players production, “Independence,” which is to this day one of my favorite acting experiences at Wake Forest. Had I not failed that biology test, I would not have gotten into the very necessary habit of going to my professors for extra help and advice, and I would not have left the course sporting a proud and long-strived-for B+ that semester. That mis-quote at the beginning of the year, led to some minor teasing and a passionate conversation about Harry Potter. It also contributed to some of the best friendships I have made at Wake Forest.

Finally, had I not tried and failed at flying at the age of five, I might not be here. The story was a major part of my college admissions essay. It seems, instead of falling down with these failures, I somehow fell up. I failed up.

I should not be surprised by these results. Often, the foundation of the greatest ideas and success stories is failure. In one of his first jobs as a newspaper editor, Walt Disney was fired because he, quote-un-quote, “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” Lucille Ball was widely thought to be a failed actress before she went on to win an Emmy award four times for “I Love Lucy.” Thomas Edison could not have created the light bulb had he not first made thousands of failed prototypes. Finally, J.K. Rowling was living on welfare while writing a manuscript that would be rejected twelve times before publication. I think we all know how that turned out.

All of their failures catalyzed stunning success: They failed up.

And they “failed up” because they allowed their failures to be defined as lessons and refining moments. Through my own failings, I learned that I would have rather tried and failed than not have tried at all. I have learned that the failures that affect me most are those which drive me the hardest to continue. Through failure, I have discovered passion and determination. I am currently in the process of failing up to my best potential.  As Maya Angelou once said,

“It may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”

Most of us were near the top of our class in high school, and coming to Wake Forest, filled with equally bright and talented students, was probably our first big exposure to the possibility of competition and failure. Now, after four challenging years at Wake Forest, we are on the cusp of entering an even more challenging world. One without meal plans, dorm rooms, or holiday breaks. There is no doubt in my mind that I will face failure in this new realm outside “the bubble.” I hope to be some combination of a writer, film director, entrepreneur, and actor, so I have kindly asked all of my failures to take a number and form an organized line.

Thanks to my time at Wake Forest, however, I feel prepared to face this daunting line of failure.  I feel prepared because I have learned three valuable lessons through failure:

First, that failure is part of life.

Second, that failure is positive necessity for growth.

And Third, that in terms of my Atychiphobia, it turns out I really did only need “fear the fear itself.” Because the fear of failure can be crippling, but failure is not an end. Rather, it is a beginning. Thanks to our failures, big or small, at Wake Forest we are all equipped with the resilience, support group, intellect, strategy, striving, and passion, that we have developed here at Mother, So Dear.

            I will end this speech with a promise, and one that I hope you will join me in making. That promise is: if at first we don’t succeed, that we will fail, and fail again. We will “fail up,” and up, until we have reached the highest altitude.  Then, free from the heavy burden of regret and what-ifs and oh-nos, we will fly. And when we do fly, we will soar right back to the Upper Quad, and then we will roll it like it has never been rolled before.

(c) Celia Quillian


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1 Response to Failing Up

  1. Secret Admirer says:

    I aspire to fail up to your level of achievement!

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