Exam Failure

If you are reading this post then the chances are that you have experienced exam failure and your world has or might be about to collapse around your feet… The word ‘failure’ is a horrible word. It conjures up images of misery, despair and the crushing of all hope.

But wait just a minute. This might feel awful right now and you may feel that you have let yourself down in some way, but read the rest of this post and you might start to feel differently.

Two years ago we, as a family, were in the same place or a similar one to you. Exams had not gone as we had hoped and school really was no longer an option. It felt, for a little while, that there was no hope.

The thing about being a mum who is a Cognitive Hypnotherapist is that it teaches you to be a stoic. We learn to live in the moment, appreciating what we have right now, and we learn that the obstacles life puts in our way can sometimes be stepping stones to a new future. It’s not so much what happens to us in life, it’s how we perceive and respond to those things. It was these skills that proved invaluable at that difficult time.

How to Survive Failure

The first thing we had to do was to stop and take stock. Yes, exams had not gone as well as we had hoped. Yes, the person in question had worked incredibly hard and still things had gone wrong. Yes, the school was not sympathetic. Yes, it felt so very unfair.

And yet… it had happened and there was nothing we could do to change it. We had no control over events in the past, what was done was done, but we could control this moment now. And this moment now it was ok to feel sad. It was ok to feel lost and angry and frustrated. And in this moment now we began to realise that we were still alive. We were still loved. We were still safe. We still had a future…. it was just not the future we had thought it might be.

So after a good cry and a few slammed doors we began to ask,”What can we do?”

There is always a choice

There is always a choice, isn’t there? We can choose to feel sorry for ourselves and our families. Maybe we can give up. Perhaps we can choose to see ourselves as failures who will never succeed at anything.

Or we can choose to keep breathing, keep taking one step after another, start to write a new story for ourselves.

For every door that closes… another door will open.

Although a ‘failure’ can feel like a huge set back initially, it can often be the catalyst for change in a way that is far better for us in the end. After all, failure just means that we haven’t achieved the outcome we were hoping for….yet. It doesn’t mean that we will never achieve it. Often we think that our path should be a straight line between A and B, but in the real world our paths are far from straight. Sometimes a detour adds to our experience… It gives us a deeper understanding of who we are and helps us to grow into stronger, better, more resilient people.

It’s ok to take some time to gather yourself, but then it’s time to take a deep breath and take action.

The Road to Success

If we gave up every time we didn’t achieve what we wanted or planned, where would the human race be? Did you give up the first time you tried to walk and fell over? Did you give up when you tried to say your first sentence and only gobbledy goop came out of your mouth? Of course not. You just can’t remember how frustrating and upsetting it once was to want to cross a room, or tell someone you wanted something, and not be able to do so. You also probably can’t remember how wonderful it felt when you did stagger across a room unaided!

The road to success is littered with failures. At the time they can seem overwhelming and crushing, but if you can remember that life is a marathon, not a sprint, you can choose to keep going. One step at a time.

The ‘failure’ that my family member experienced has led to a whole raft of opportunities that would not have been there had he had ‘success’ in his GCSEs. He is stronger, more confident and is now about to start training to enter a career that will suit him down to the ground. He has an understanding and an empathy for others that has come through his own pain.

Those first few days and weeks were awful, but in the grand scheme of things they were the blink of an eye. Looking back over the last two years there have been far more ups than downs and we have grown as a family. We have all learnt that set backs, obstacles are just life’s way of making us stop and ask ourselves, “What can I do?”.

There is always another way to move forward – we just need to reflect and choose how. Sometimes it means going sideways, thinking out of the box, maybe pausing and regrouping.

It’s Not Personal

So often when we fail we imagine that everyone will judge us. We think that our friends and family will see us as lesser people, deficient in some way. We might imagine that everyone else is successful and has it easy. But that’s just not true. So many successful people have struggled to get to where they are now. So many have succeeded only to lose everything and have to start again.

What really makes us successful as people is having the strength to keep going, believe in ourselves and, if we can’t and don’t, ask others for help. There is no shame in asking for help, in fact there is strength in recognising our weaknesses and seeking to change them.

If you didn’t get the results you wanted because you didn’t know how to revise – learn how to revise. Maybe you didn’t work hard enough – learn from this and work harder next time. Perhaps you worked really hard, so be proud of yourself and ask where do you want to go now? If your planned route is impassable – find another way.

If people judge you – shame on them. Mostly, people will feel for you and wish you well. Mostly, people will be so busy thinking about themselves that they won’t be thinking of you. And they certainly won’t in a year from now. It may sound cliched, but time is a great healer. What is raw and unbearable today will be a memory in a few days, weeks or years.

Make Failure Your Springboard

So yes, failure hurts. Maybe this moment you are reading this with a heavy heart and tears in your eyes. It’s ok to feel that way. It means that whatever you have ‘failed’ at matters to you. It’s important to have things that matter in your life.

But this is not the end of the world. This is the start of a different story for you. There is no rule that says life has to be a certain way. Use this event in your life as a springboard. Use what you have learned from it to inform you as you move forward. What have you learnt? How can you do better next time? How can you turn this negative into a positive?

Difficult Times are Temporary

When I think back over my own life there have been times when I have felt failure and those times have been difficult to get through. And yet they are the times that have made me who I am. They have given me the strength and skills to keep trying to do my best, be kind and help other people.

Difficult times are temporary, even though they feel interminable and exhausting. Be kind to yourself. This is one of those difficult times and you will learn from it. Stop and reflect. Ask for help. Talk to people.

You will find a way forward. You can still get to where you really want to go – it might just be via a different route and it might take a little longer. And that’s ok. When you get there the feeling of pride and joy you feel in your achievement will be wonderful. Joy trumps misery every time, but we have to experience the dark times to appreciate the wonderful ones.

You will be ok.


Please talk to someone you trust if you are feeling despondent. It really will make a difference. If you feel that Cognitive Hypnotherapy can help you begin to change the way you are feeling please contact me at sarah@sarahariss.com




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