Learning to Embrace Failure in STEM– Melanie Kuo

Updated: Sep 7, 2020

More often than we would like to admit, everyone encounters failure while navigating the world of STEM. Whether it’s finding yet another error in your code or getting rejected from that research internship, failure is incredibly natural and almost inevitably will happen to each of us. But if failure is so common, why do we let our fear of it drive us away from pursuing opportunities in STEM? The statistics are daunting: According to a survey conducted by the American Society for Quality, 46 percent of teenagers are afraid of failing and taking risks to solve problems, despite 95 percent of teenagers agreeing that risks are necessary for STEM innovation. The future of STEM relies on today’s teenagers, yet the fear of failure has driven teenagers away from pursuing STEM -- including myself.

For most of my life, my fear of failure drove me away from taking risks and jumping up at chances for STEM experiences. While I pushed myself to try out things that I knew I could accomplish, I was always hesitant to try things that I didn’t believe I could do. I would always find myself making up excuses to shy away from these bold opportunities, and once when I did step up to pursue one of my long-term goals, I came face to face with failure and was rejected. Naturally, I was upset, and though I later would still try and pursue unknown opportunities, I became even more wary and cautious of failure.

So when I tackled my first coding project, I was surprised by how easily everyone accepted failure. Each of the instructors stressed how important it was to be okay with making mistakes, and even explained that it’s completely okay to come across setbacks in our code, because failure provides an opportunity to learn more. I kept this idea in the back of my mind as I continued to code, and found that I became more open to getting help from others instead of stressing over my mistakes. Over time, I started to embrace this mindset beyond my code and pushed myself to pursue the opportunities that I used to be too afraid to try out. I accepted that everything came down to God’s will, and if I was ever rejected from something, then it simply wasn’t the right opportunity or the right time for me. This new approach led me to have access to many different programs that allowed me to grow my skills, as well as my first club leadership position.

Though failure may often hinder us from achieving our goals in a certain way, we should never allow failure to stop us from even trying to advance our pathways in STEM. By chasing after the things we may fail at, we set a good example of eliminating

the fear of failure that is prevalent amongst today’s teenage youth, shaping the future of STEM leaders.

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