The Choice That Reeks Suspiciously of Failure

I didn’t do what MIT students are supposed to do. At 3AM this morning, when I saw that, despite all of my foresight and planning and scheduling, I was unable to finish my assignment by 9AM this morning, simply because I didn’t understand what was going on. Instead of looking things up and searching for the answers in my notes and my textbooks and being a “real MIT student” who says, “I don’t need sleep. I need an A,” I said to myself, “I can’t do this. I need sleep.” And I’m very much afraid that I’m going to look back on this missed assignment and cry my eyes out.

I’ve never been resourceful. When completing assignments, I rely on my friends, and my notes, and my brain. I don’t look things up online, neither to I scavenge to see whether there are answers for the questions in some old archive of problem sets, and I really don’t like copying. But between my brain, my friends, the time that I set aside to try to understand what was going on, I couldn’t do it. And it didn’t feel worth not sleeping the night before I have to go hard again for yet another problem set due tomorrow morning.

The logic was, “Look, I have to run around so much today. It’s not worth being a zombie just for the sake of one problem set, which will then inevitably get a bad grade anyways and then worsen my chance of being able to finish my other assignment.” That was the logic I had in my head when I went to bed at 3:30AM. I then prayed, “God, I need help.” But doesn’t God help those who help themselves? Did I just royally screw myself over all for a measly 3.5 hours of sleep?

It’s just one assignment, I can imagine my friends saying. Don’t be hard on yourself, you did the right thing. But next time this happens, will this be my answer? Will I no longer be able to “tool hard” as we say over here when push comes to shove? And it’s these questions that make me wonder at my legitimacy, and my ability to get through. Not even midway through my third year here, and I wonder if I should just back out now, before too much damage is done.

It’s just one assignment. But I hate failing. I hate failing because it’s a data point that influences the prediction trajectory of “what may happen next.” If there’s something worse than failing once, it’s failing twice. And I’m feeling less and less able to control the rate of failure. Due to a slew of choices that may or may not be towards my benefit, I’m not sitting here, contemplating my next move, while dying inside that I was unable to succeed. What people seem to not understand while talking with me is simple English: if you don’t succeed, you fail. There’s nothing in between.

And yet, I’m haunted by something I told my students over the summer: “In the face of failure, we smile. Because when you smile, it’s no longer failure, but just another problem to be solved.”

Darn my good advice.

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