Woe Is Me! “How Do I Cope With Academic Failure While My Friends Succeed?”


Jan 29, 2023


Image Credit: Haar Jeet (1954)

Woe Is Me! is a series in which The Swaddle team indulges your pity party with advice you’ll probably ignore.

“I’d dreamed of studying at a top law college. I put my heart and soul into my exam, but couldn’t clear the cutoff by just one mark. I’ve always been academically bright, and so have all my friends. But now, I am the only one with no college admission. We were a group of equals, but they all sympathize with me now. Maybe, it’s in my mind, but I can’t get myself to talk to most of them because I feel judged. I also push all of my loneliness onto my boyfriend, who has cleared the same exam, and is soon going to start his classes. I don’t know whether it’s the academic failure, or the fact that I am losing my friends, that I am sadder about. How do I deal with feeling useless at the ripe age of 22?”

— Where do I go from here?

DR: Well, for starters, there’s more than one “top law college” in India. Once you start practicing, it’ll cease to make that big of a difference where you studied, as long as you’re good at your job. Also, as someone who couldn’t clear CLAT at her first attempt and dropped a year to take another shot at it, I feel you. But, before you know it, the year will pass, and you might look back at this phase when you had SO much free time, and regret that you whiled most of it away fretting. This may actually be a good time to focus on your hobbies and interests.

If your friends are looking down on you — through microaggressions, snide comments, or anything else — I’d say focus on taking some time off them; interactions with them might reinforce your insecurities and jeopardize your mental health. Maybe, you can make new friends who are in the same boat as you, and are attempting to figure out their next course of action, too? On the other hand, if you’re simply imagining that your friends are pitying you, I’d say it’s not worth distancing them. Instead, you could listen to their experiences being at this college, and prepare yourself better — or, through their experiences, you may end up realizing that it isn’t for you, and take your time to carve out a new career path for yourself.   

Also, in my experience, the “ripe age of 22” is a time when people often feel listless and rudderless — in fact, I think you should buck up to feel this way for most of your 20s, to be honest. Yes, adulting sucks, but you’ll be fine, don’t worry!   

AS: At the risk of sounding played out, I do have to say this: As you move toward your late-20s, you will realize that plans go awry more often than not, which is not necessarily a bad thing. I understand it must be difficult to reconcile yourself to this situation — being a bright student, you are probably more used to success than you are to “failure.” To get through this, I think the first step would be to recognize this as a “setback” — you can always try again, instead of labeling yourself a “failure.” So, take your time to process this, and hopefully, you will come to see this development as a boon in disguise. You can now explore several avenues, throw yourself into dreams and hobbies that never made it to your priority list, and even prepare for the exam again with the added advantage of having experienced it once before. 

When it comes to your friends, strong relationships won’t change based on this one hiccup in your plans. As you said, it could be that you’re projecting your fear of being judged onto them, leading you to push them away. Whenever you’re ready, openly talking about it might help blunt the sting. Feeling “useless” in your 20s is also a very common feeling, so you are definitely not alone there. But the pressure to achieve one’s goals by a certain age is one we often create for ourselves, based on what we think society expects of us. Life moves at a different pace for everyone. A couple of years down the line, you may come to appreciate this year off — give yourself space to experience that.

AB: At your age, a failed exam might seem like it’s the end of the world — the most straightforward path to your future appears to be closed, but that’s not the case. Firstly, failing this exam is neither representative of your academic capabilities, nor is it the endgame to your life’s plans. This happens all the time, and you only missed it by one mark. Secondly, your friends sympathizing with you is not a bad thing — they’re showing they care about your feelings, not pitying or judging you. It’s more likely that your insecurities about this are clouding your judgment and filling in unnecessary blanks. What is in your control is how you treat your boyfriend and your friends — they’ve stuck with you, don’t let your feelings about your situation alienate your support system. Trust them to continue being by your side, and work on building yourself back up — this is not the end of your career, education, or goals. You’re only 22, you have your whole life ahead of you.

AS: Maybe, take some time off. From academics, exams, and perhaps, even your friends. Take a pause, let things clear up in your head, and wait for your association of the exam with your friends to end. Apart from that, the fact that you missed the cutoff only by one mark means that you’ll probably ace the entrances the next time — if you do decide to take it again. In the meantime, there are other things you can do. Find peace in places other than academics, maybe? It will be fun. All the best.


Written By The Swaddle Team


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