Updated: Jul 20, 2021
I Used to Think Getting an F Was The Worst
When I was in school, I hated getting an F. Whenever it happened, I remember feeling sick to my stomach and breaking out in a cold sweat like I was in an interrogation room and had just been accused of murder. I felt like I had done something wrong and I was going to get in trouble for it. It felt like the end of the world.
Now that I'm older, I realize that getting an F is not the end of the world (somehow I survived this long...hooray for me). Actually, it's really not that big of a deal at all.
I used to think it meant that I was dumb or stupid. I hear my students say these kind of things to themselves all the time.
"Ugh...I'm so dumb."
"That was stupid."
"I can't understand this, and I never will."
They say this when they get an F on a test, or if they have a C in the class, or even if they make a small error while doing their work.
I never let my students speak to themselves like that. I always have them take it back. If you think about it, would you speak to your best friend that way? No? Then, why would you speak to yourself that way? You need to be your own biggest champion.
F for Feedback Not Failure
I see now that failing a test did not mean that I was dumb or stupid, even though it felt that way at the time.
It could have meant that I didn't study hard enough, or I didn't understand the material as much as I thought I did.
It could have meant that I forgot to eat breakfast that morning and my brain was comatose when I took the test.
It could have meant that the new season of Rick and Morty had come out the night before, and I stayed up all night binge watching it on Netflix, and now I was dragging my barely awake body into the classroom only to be told that we were having a test that I had totally forgotten about. (I really squanched up that night!)
ANY of these situations were possible. NONE of them meant I was stupid. ALL of them were also fixable.
I could study harder or check in with a friend to make sure I fully understand the material, I could make sure I eat a healthy breakfast to give myself some brain fuel, or I could close my laptop and turn off Rick and Morty so I get a good night sleep and feel well rested the next day (that last one takes EXTREME discipline 😂)
Your Brain Believes What You Tell It
The problem with calling yourself dumb or stupid is that you are sending a message to your brain that you are stupid, and if you do that enough, your brain will start to believe you. Being stupid will become your reality. Once "I'm stupid" becomes your reality, you will start acting in accordance with that reality, or in other words, you will start acting more stupid.
And whenever you do something "stupid" like get an F on a test, your brain will just use it as more evidence to prove to yourself how stupid you are. Humans are funny creatures, right!
And once you start believing "I'm stupid", it is incredibly difficult to unbelieve it. In the words of the legendary comedian Ron White, "You can't fix stupid."
Me when a student tells me "I'm so dumb"
So next time you get an F on a test, a C in a class, or make a small error, instead of saying, "I'm so stupid", say "Whoops!" instead. It is as simple as that. There is no judgement in "whoops". You can just say "whoops" and move on with your life without making yourself feel bad about messing up.
Getting an F sucks, there is no denying that. But next time it happens be careful not to label yourself as dumb or stupid. Remember in the grand scheme of things, it really doesn't matter. Use an F as a tool to guide you towards doing better next time rather than using it to shame yourself. Do that my amigos and watch your academic success rocket to the moon.
Oh and here is a cheesy poem to help you remember how to think about failure:
Once I thought F stood for fail
I got so sad I had to wail
But now I see F's not that bad
F for feedback and I'm so glad