24. The F Word (Part 3)

I don’t usually recommend non-fiction books, but when I do, they’re really good ones. For great perspective on failure, check out Dr. John C. Maxwell’s book, titled Failing Forward; or another book titled Sometimes You Win – Sometimes You Learn, by the same man.

Growing up as a young adult is a very sobering experience. Looking at my life, and the lives of those around me, I am beginning to appreciate the wisdom that had been so generously handed out to me in my adolescent years, and for this I must thank a whole group of people, including my parents, mentors, leaders, and pastors. One of it goes like this:

“Life is 10% what happens to you, and 90% how you respond to it.”

And I find this to be so, so true. One of the rationales Dr. Maxwell puts forth in his book concerning failure is that every one of us are going to fall in some way, and fail in some way. And since failures are far more prevalent than successes, we ought to put our energies into learning from our failures, rather than focusing on the attainment of success. We learn far more from our failures than we possibly could from our successes – so why let it go to waste? Refusing to learn from one’s mistakes is like refusing to attend a course that one has already paid for.

I went back to university in May 2011, ready to accept whatever the results may be. Pass or fail, it’s all a matter of making the necessary arrangements to put everything back on track again. I took my result slip, my eyes scanned the paper for the F-word I was looking for.

And I couldn’t find it. What I did find though, on the same row as Business Law, under the column that read “Grade Attained”, was a D. It wasn’t a credit, but it was a pass. For Business Law. A pass.

I had a tough time for the rest of the day trying to explain why I looked so happy with a lousy pass.

I’ve been told that this is an Asian thing, but really, I think it’s a human thing – that we put our best efforts into trying not to fail whenever we set out to do something, and it is the perfectly logical thing to do. Who would go out to do something, and attempt to fail at doing it? The trouble, however, begins when we begin to hold ourselves to a responsibility of being infallible – when we refuse to give ourselves any room for mistakes and failure. It’s a road that can only end in disappointment.

We all will fall. We all will fail. We all will make mistakes. The difference is in how we deal with it.

Past-Me in 2011 (that idiot) wasn’t able to deal with failing. Past-Me was obsessed with looking good in front of other people. It took 4 weeks of thinking, writing, and actively challenging the notion of failure to finally snuff the life out of Past-Me, making way for Present-Me to be here today, sharing this with you guys.

Earlier this year, I actually did fail a subject – Risk Management. And again, this was no one’s fault but mine. Present-Me took one look at the result slip, shook his head, and went down to the office to enquire on the procedures for retaking a course. No fretting, no worrying – just making the necessary arrangements to be able to graduate by the end of this year.

“Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall,” Nelson Mandela says.

Why do we fall?


Hard cut to-

Joel and Amanda are talking over lunch.

…And that was the story of how I failed.

It’s alright Joel, it can happen to any one of us.

Yes, it can happen to anyone – anyone but me! How can I fail? How can *I* fail?? It’s against the law of nature. It’s like a fish walking. Or a bear flying. Or a palatypus-

Shut up, Joel! Stop rubbing it in, I failed a subject before, too!

I am not rubbing it in! I’m just saying that there are people who fail, are there are people who don’t fail. And I belong in that group.

Are you calling me stupid?

No! No, I am not implying that at all! Failure doesn’t make you stupid, it just… it just means…

It just means WHAT?

It just means… You’re a person who is able to fail, unlike a person who is not able to fail…

Like yourself? Seriously?
Okay, I’m willing to let that one go, but seriously, just tell me: what’s so bad about failing? Why is it that NOT failing is so important to you?

Which was a good question: why do I care so much? Maybe it’s my upbringing.


Being an Asian is tough. Most of us spend half our lives trying to live up to expectations. We’re expected to be so many things – be good at maths, be good at science, be able to speak four different dialects, be respectful to people older than you… The list goes on and on. With so many rules, anyone’s bound to make mistakes. But if you ask me, the first mistake was introducing dad to facebook.

Dad is looking at a results slip.

Good, good… Wait. What’s this? B minus?? (sigh)… Son, I am disappoint. Remember, you are not B-sian, you are not C-sian; you are A-SIAN!

And mom? Moms are great and all, but she’s not much better when it comes to things like these.

I tell you, this is a tough world we live in. If you’re not good enough, you’re already disqualified. That’s why I always tell you to study hard, so that you can be successful in the future. If you get a C or a D, what different are you from all the other people out there? You must be straight A just for people to notice you. Hard work always pays off, remember my words in the future…

See the kind of environment I grew up in? And having a sister who’s good at everything doesn’t help.

Check. This. Out. Straight As, yo. As usual.

Traditionally, an A means an Ace – the best. For Asians, A only means Average. For a long time, we have tried to separate the average geniuses from the exceptional geniuses by introducing two different grades of A. Now, we have THREE different grades of A. A is just… Average. I can’t even get a B, that stands for Beware. C and D? That means “Certain Death”. But an F?


An F would officially mean that I am fu-

Okay, just stop it. Us psychology students have it the WORST. You have NO idea what it’s like to be in Mr. Leong’s class.

Actually, I did.


It happened one day when I stayed back in class to do a little something. That’s when he burst in.

I’m in a *bleep*ing bad mood today, so I’m failing all of you. Yes, ALL of you, you good for nothing, dirt-eating, brown-nosing students. Get out of my class. I’ll see you all next semester.


You should try it some time. You’ll learn how to just bend over and take it, and move on with life. But you haven’t answered my question yet – why is it so important to not fail?

(to be continued)


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