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Lessons learned: How looking back can help you get ahead

By Sam Werger, 3rd-year History student

“You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don’t try to forget the mistakes, but you don’t dwell on it. You don’t let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space.” — Johnny Cash

Students attend university for different reasons. For whatever reason we decide to get a university education, we all end up learning something (hopefully). Whether we’re learning about the French Revolution, or mechanical engineering, or the internal workings of the human digestive system, we all learn something while at university.

As important as classes are, some of the most important things we learn at university may have nothing to do with formal classroom education at all. The things we learn about ourselves are perhaps just as, if not more, important as the things we learn in lecture halls and seminars. In four years we evolve from intimidated first-years to confident fourth year students. We learn how to juggle a busy schedule and how to succeed in every part of life.

Most importantly, we learn what kind of person we are and what kind of person we want to be.

Part of the learning process is making mistakes. We are only human and humans make mistakes. If you’re like me, you’ve made quite a few mistakes over the years. Whether it was waiting to study for a mid-term until the night before the test, or spending half of a lecture looking at memes on the internet, the mistakes themselves aren’t that important. The important part is what we learn from those mistakes.

Will we let our mistakes define us? Or we will have the courage to look back at our past mistakes and see them as steppingstones instead of obstacles? By looking back at our experiences- our successes and our failures- we can improve our present and our future. Instead of shying away from past mistakes and failures, own those failures. Don’t allow them to drag you down. Use them to lift yourself up.

Whether you’re a first-year student preparing for the final weeks of your first year at university or a seasoned fourth-year gearing up for the bittersweet final chapter of your undergraduate career, I urge everyone to look back and reflect on their past. Perhaps you’ll find yourself looking at your first-year self and remembering all those mistakes you made. Maybe you’ll find yourself looking at how much you’ve changed since September.

Whatever you find yourself looking at, try to look at one thing in particular: your mistakes. Do not turn away from your shortcomings. Grab onto them and use them as a step on the stairway to a better you. Let your mistake guide you on your path and not obstruct it. And like Mr. Johnny Cash said, don’t dwell on your mistakes, but don’t forget them either — they can be your most valuable tool for improvement.

Photo courtesy of clrcmck under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.