How Students at 42 Learn from Failure

“The Greatest Teacher, Failure Is” -Yoda

The wise words of Yoda, “The Greatest Teacher, Failure Is” shares a similar value that we embrace at 42. But we understand that the idea of failure is closely linked to a strong feeling of fear. Many of us have encountered that feeling: a pit in your stomach, sweaty palms, heart beating fast. According to Psychology Today, fear is one of the most powerful things in our lives. It can impact the way you react to obstacles and if you don’t face your fears it may even prevent you from achieving your goals. This is an unpleasant feeling, to say the least, and most of us would do anything to learn how to cope better.  As reviewed in Psychology Today, there are a lot of different fears or phobias, but the one we will be focusing on is the fear of failure, “Fear of failure is the emotional, cognitive, and behavioral reaction to the negative consequences you anticipate for failing to achieve a goal.  It is the intense worry, the negative thinking, and the reluctance to take action you experience, when you imagine all the horrible things that could happen if you failed to achieve a goal.” Chief Academic Officer at 42, Gaetan Juvin, explained how fear of failure is a social construct and can affect us psychologically in a way that can act as a big demotivator. After all, we aren’t born that way, when babies are learning how to walk they fail over and over again until they are able to take their first steps. At 42 we are here to support you as you take your first steps into programming.  You really cannot become a great programmer if you don’t have the fundamentals, and you cannot get the fundamentals down if you are afraid of failing. This is because you will fail, you will fail A LOT and that is just part of the learning process at 42. Pisciners, Cadets, and Alumni share how they have faced failure head on and learned to cope, learned how to adapt and learned how to build resilience.

Fresh Perspectives from Current Pisciners

Jiyeong Park: “I was continually failing, but I was a person who didn’t do much about it. I was changing majors and roaming around the world because I couldn’t stand the fact that I failed. At 42 it isn’t like in the end you have one failure and you are done with it and you can’t recover from it. Instead, you experience failure every day and have to deal with it. You see friends dealing with the same thing, so you aren’t struggling alone. Since the system gives you a fail every day it may seem like a short run but the whole point of 42 is that it is a full marathon that I need to run and the friends who help you are the water and vitamins. I used to feel fragile about myself, but the piscine helped me learn how to deal with the past, it wasn’t me that was a failure, it was the situation, and I had the power to change it. Here I can see that I can actually deal with it and actually make a change day by day, it is kind of a healing process.”  

Bicky Singh:  “Failure is when you have something you are trying to get done or a goal in mind and you don’t reach it. It is great to see and understand that failure is very common and it is not taboo, when you see it happening often and you are growing and learning, at the end of the day you can look back and see that you may have failed some projects but you have still done so much. So you don’t look at failure in the same way. You shouldn’t let failure stop you from growing. Failure is the best way to grow, you need to go through failure to understand what you are doing. People who are really good at what they do have experienced failure. Talk to other students that are going through the same thing as you, you may be scared because you are failing, but they are going through the same exact experience and learning through failure. The community here helps you move past the failure faster.”  

Alejandro Franco: “My definition of failure has changed since the last month. Failure was that bad feeling of not having completed something, and seeing that my peers did complete it. When I started the piscine I was trying to rush to get a good grade, so I separated myself from the grading system and asked myself, do I enjoy what I am doing? Did I learn something today? That matters more than getting a 0 or a 100 on something. The fact that I realized I can set my own metrics, as long as I meet those I will be happy, just being okay with yourself, and being happy with what you are doing. It is important to focus on what you care about, that can mean different things for different people. Don’t feel demotivated if your peers are doing better on the projects, care about your learning and feel good about what you are learning. When someone gets stuck, stand out of that situation and look at it from a third person perspective: I am failing but that doesn’t mean I am a failure.”

Salkynai Akakova: “I think failure is a good opportunity to learn from your mistakes, and that is the only way to learn. When you fail, you learn. With barriers or stereotypes, you may feel like you can’t do this. It was hard but every time you are doing something step by step, when you have a little bit of an achievement or goal, it breaks all kinds of invisible walls. Whenever someone says you can’t do that, it isn’t true. What I learned at 42 can help in many aspects of your life. First of all, I learned not only coding but also disciplining yourself. At a traditional school, someone will always tell you how to do it. At 42, all of the resources you need, you can search and you can find it. They have to just start doing something, they need to take action, that is the only way.”

Christian Bagdon:Defining failure depends on the situation For me, it is not being able to do something I planned on doing or not being able to do it to the fullest extent. It is not so much overcoming the fear of failure, but more of the acceptance with dealing with failure. The piscine involves a lot of failure. I was a perfectionist before coming here, it teaches you the hard way that you are going to fail, it teaches you it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Through your failures, you learn that you can succeed, so it is about dealing with it and accepting it. I think it will help me in a lot of areas, it will help me try new things, and teach me how to learn better, it is a faster way of making process. It will kind of allow me to be patient with myself in terms of learning. Just try the piscine. One thing I learned in this piscine is that people are focusing too much on the green or red rectangle on the progress page, focus less on the grade and more on the learning part.”

Cadets: How they Keep Calm and Carry On

David Mendelovits: “I think that failure is dependent on who you are failing. You can fail yourself, your friends, teachers, or even an institution like a school. You can fail by an institution’s standards when you fail an exam, or fail your friends when you fail to keep your word. Ultimately, I think true failure is what happens when you give up and stop trying. I went through the entirety of the piscine freaking out about whether or not I would be accepted. I drove nearly 3,000 miles from New York, with no intention of going back. It was this constant self-imposed pressure that defined failure for me. Every time I failed a day’s assignments, I felt as if I was failing myself. I quickly realized I would fail most of the piscine, as many do. I then realized that failure and success aren’t mutually exclusive. While I would fail the majority of my projects during the piscine, I decided I wouldn’t fail the piscine, and if I did, I would try again, until I made it in. It is also important to realize that no one here is alone. Everyone fails, so it’s easier to feel better about your shortcomings. In most social environments, failure leads to shame. Here, we embrace failure and treat each shortcoming as a stepping stone. We don’t feel shame. We add it to our long list of lessons learned.”

Taylor Zhang: “I think failure is a very personal concept for everybody, so each person will have their own set of criteria and definition. Before 42 I felt like my definition of it was pretty much the same with the universal one, when I couldn’t satisfactorily achieve the things I expected myself to achieve, I define that as a failure. After coming to 42, I realized that every time we approach something new, we discover a whole new world of complex possibilities and factors, insights and cool things. I still have those fears to a certain extent, but it is so much better now, because the short period of time I’ve spent here at 42 made me realize that failure is just a current marker of where your efforts are and where the reality is. I feel like 42 is not just a coding experience, it is more of a training of people’s approach to achieving the things they thought were unattainable in life. From the gap between the difficulties of the projects and students’ current level, you realize that these are really audacious projects. But somehow we find ways to achieve them. One thing I discovered during the process is that it is really easy to go into your own self and stay there when you feel like you’re not on track. But that is actually quite the opposite of what a person should do, they should go out into the world, into the piscine, and talk to their peers and people who can help them. I guess one of the biggest reasons for frustrations in the piscine is that people just cut themselves off, but if they don’t, they will be able to overcome their problems a lot easier and a lot faster.”

Kristine Sonu: “My mom always told me about the bible verse,  Job 8:7, ‘Your beginnings will seem humble, so prosperous will your future be.’ So there is this idiom that failure is the stepping stone to success. My whole life I experienced failure. I failed to get into college, they had these requirements so I gave up early because I thought I wasn’t going to make it. At 42 they don’t say anything about the requirements that you need in order to pass the piscine, or what level you need to be to get into the school, so that made me push myself. I felt a sense of achievement that I never felt before because I usually give up early. That feeling of achievement is the greatest thing I learned from the piscine, it really helps me to push myself whenever I have failed. During the piscine my biggest problem was comparing myself to others, it made me feel miserable. I felt way behind from other people, so I think that is connected to that feeling of giving up. You just think that your own failure is more in comparison to other people. It is important to go at your own pace. When I look back to my own piscine, I learned a lot, even though I didn’t know it at the time.”

Alumni: How Failure is A Lesson in How to Move Forward

Robin Schramm, Software Engineer @ Microsoft: “Failure sucks.  It’s annoying. It hurts.  It’s shameful. It takes time, money.  And it makes us feel bad. All things considered, failure is really shitty. The 42 piscine was like a failure training camp.  The first three days when we had to do all that bash scripting, I didn’t pass a single exercise. In fact, I only passed 2 days worth of exercises during the entire 4-week process.  Failure was my constant companion. In the short term, it made the piscine stressful. So many times, I thought to myself, ‘I must be out of my fucking mind to have taken this route.’ But after a couple of days, I learned to get over that initial knee-jerk, egotistical reaction.  I ignored the shame and anger. I calmed myself down. I looked deeper: why was I failing? (Because I sucked at programming.) OK, how can I succeed? (Whole lab filled with other students…) So I swallowed my pride, got up off my ass, and started asking all my fellow students to explain shit to me.  The problem was that most students looked at me and thought I was a lost cause. So I started turning in empty assignments and signing up for corrections. During the correction, everyone was always so confused: why did you turn in empty work? And I proceeded to ask all of my correctors to teach me. How did they do the assignment?  In this way, I was able to turn the 15-minute correction sessions, into mini-training classes. My fellow students became my teachers. And over the course of the weeks, I got a little better. And a little better. And so on. I think by the time I got to the third week, I felt some ground beneath my feet. Most importantly, I passed my final exam.  I think I may have cried a little, but please don’t tell anyone. After this experience, I think I’m less of an asshole. More fun to work with. If I make mistakes, I come clean and make fun of myself for them. My co-workers respect that kind of honesty. They trust it because it means if something goes wrong, they can depend on me to be open and transparent as we work through problems. As for advice, success in the piscine is all about attitude and discipline.  Go to the lab every day for four weeks. Try as hard as you can for 8-12 hours (this means no partying). Be kind. Students who can do those three things, usually have amazing results.”

Oliver Belanger, Software Engineer @ Axiad IDS, Inc.:Failure is feedback from the world letting you know that how you thought it worked is wrong. It is essential for learning, especially for auto-dictate learning. Generally learning to accept failure is an exposure problem. By failing a lot and not dying you learn emotionally that it isn’t the end of the world. Failure is intrinsically tied with risk. The more comfortable with failure you are the more riskier opportunities your willing to take and therefore open yourself up to more upside/value.  My advice is don’t overcome your fears. Fears are extremely useful. If anything use your fears as a compass. Try to learn how to live with your fear and create a partnership. Bravery isn’t forgetting the feeling of fear, it’s saying that the action you’re taking is more important than the fear you feel.”

At 42 We Learn from Failure

At 42, failure is an essential part of the learning process. It will help you adjust to unexpected changes and navigate new and creative ways to get out of a slump. Adaptability and creative problem solving are great skills to have in the workplace. At 42 you are in charge of your education so you have the freedom to fail as many times as it takes before you succeed. Failure at 42 does not spell out one’s demise but giving up does. J.K. Rowling once gave a commencement speech where she shared her own experiences with failure and how it shaped her outlook on life, “You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default. Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected; I also found out that I had friends whose value was truly above the price of rubies.” The 42 community shares a similar view on failure. Although it may be terrifying, failure teaches you in a way that helps you discover your own strengths and reveals what you need to work on. Tough experiences also help you form strong bonds of friendship that will serve as a supportive network for years to come. 

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published by Stacey Faucett – November 16, 2018