By Fahad Ken Alden
This column highlights the oft-difficult topic of failure (or the fear of failure) and steps I have taken to turn my negative experiences into advantageous assets. One of the ways I do this is by being authentic and sharing my stories with others as a learning tool.
When I was eight years old, I was diagnosed with a neurological disability and since that time I have struggled with depression and all the symptoms that accompany it. As a method of survival from school bullying and of physical abuse, I have used dissociation as an escape strategy, although it came with a cost, especially as I got older.
Even though I am an elected official in Bedford and am involved in my student government at UMass-Lowell, I don’t always feel like I fit into any “perceived” mold and have difficulty being part of a group. With all these factors seemingly stacked against me, with unpredictable physical and emotional sensations bombarding me at somewhat inopportune times, I am proud that I have learned healthier ways to overcome obstacles that come along my way. That has not always been the case.
For example, when I was mingling at a young professionals’ event when I was a freshman in college, the conversation shifted from the topic of golf to MCAS tests. When someone asked what I got on my test, I felt like I was transported back to my sophomore year in high school when I found out I had failed my math MCAS exams. The voice quietly whispering to me all these years was now screaming loudly inside my head… “failure, failure, failure.” I felt panic slowly taking over me.
Overwhelmed with anxiety, I barely gathered enough strength to excuse myself and head to the men’s room. After spiraling downward – revisiting all my childhood traumas, I collected myself, dried my tears, and rejoined the group.
My life’s journey isn’t smooth. It is filled with valleys of failures and shortcomings –mountaintops of successes and triumphs – light in the shadows of the tunnels. Here are a few tips that I have used and continue to use on my journey of healing and wholeness:
Step 1: Trust the Process
I learned the very first step in the healing journey is to trust the process. And to do that, I have to let myself feel every emotion – whether it is anger, sadness, desperation, or other feelings – as they come up and learn to cope with them all before I can move on.
When I feel stuck, I listen to music, watch movies, and read books where people share similar hurts and experiences. It not only helps me to identify with similar struggles and emotions and assures me that I am not alone, but offers tips on how to move through the challenges.
I started writing in a journal using bullet points to label my thoughts and emotions. Once I started doing this, no matter how devastating it felt, I was able to accept and move through them. I realize that hiding them doesn’t help – it just makes it harder to learn how to overcome them.
I also learned that sharing them is better than keeping them concealed, as it’s the only way to experience revival.
Step 2: Develop Self-compassion
I need to always remember that we’re all human, not some kind of machine that is supposed to function perfectly. When I make mistakes, I am often reminded of the quote that helps me pick myself up: “If you trip, does it mean that you cannot walk?” It is a friendly reminder that one mistake or setback does not define us.
I had to learn how to be self-compassionate. To help with this aspect of the healing process, I write letters to myself regarding the experiences. Sometimes it is easier to have compassion for others than it is for yourself so I write the notes “to a friend,” adding ways I would console them and words to uplift them. I am learning how to become my own best friend.
Step 3: Take Responsibility/Be Accountable
I learned that I have the choice to stay bitter or get better. I could blame others for my hardships, circumstances, and failures. Or I could learn from them, make changes to overcome them, adapt to them, or move on from them.
For example, even though I could not change my failing MCAS grade, I could prepare myself for a second chance. First, I enrolled in a math lab course and then I got a peer math tutor. Taking those steps helped me earn a passing grade the next time I took the test.
Step 4: Utilize the situation
Through all the hard work and self-discovery, by continuing to overcome my fears and failures, and by finding the light in my dark experiences, I have found the courage and desire to share my journey in hopes that it might be an inspiration to help others.
In essence, always remember, failure is inevitable, but how you look at it makes all the difference. You can see it as a setback or use it as a stepping stone to reach the level for success.
I challenge you to work through your fears and failures and then find an outlet to share how you overcame them with others. Perhaps you might write an article or find a place to talk about your journey. Perhaps you might extend compassion and empathy to someone who has shared a similar story with you.
Also, I invite you to read through the rest of my articles – you might discover another practical topic that speaks directly to your heart.
Fahad Alden is a sophomore Digital Media major with a minor in Law at the University of Massachusetts – Lowell. He also works at Kids Club and hosts a podcast on Spotify called “Lessons We Can Take from Today,” where he interviews professionals – from state representatives to teachers – about life lessons anyone can learn. He also serves as a member of the Bedford Library’s Board of Trustees, making him the first Middle Eastern and youngest person elected in Bedford history.