Tuesday, May 5, 2015

22: After a Failure - Persevere!

I Failed Academically. I Got Up. I Then Succeeded.  So Can You!

Please permit me to tell you a story.

Shortly after I arrived at college I suffered several events that had not happened to me in high school – I failed. Over and over. I blew it on several quizzes, essays, and exams, with failing grades in one course and grades far below my personal expectations in several others. Within a few weeks I felt as if I didn’t deserve to be at college.

Compounding the problem – I was extremely shy. It went beyond introversion (which, I later learned, is a strength, but not an excuse). I was not forming connections with other students. I was quiet. I often ate alone at the eateries on campus. I was lonely. I suffered from social anxiety. I felt, again, like I didn’t belong at college.

But – I persevered. I used my grit and determination to figure out how to change – a few little things, that then had major impacts. And, very importantly – I reached out for assistance, and received guidance – some from fellow students, some from professors, and some from other types of counselors.

And then, with courage, I chose to tackle the challenges I encountered head-on. I utilized my new insights into how to study, how to keep myself focused, how to manage my time more effectively, and how to make friends. I graduated from college and then went on to law school, where I graduated with honors.

Today I am blessed to be teaching college students, after successful careers as a lawyer and then as a financial planner. I have dozens of colleagues I am proud to call my friends. I also engage in advocacy efforts in Washington, DC, and speak several times a year at industry conferences – often to rooms of a thousand or more attendees (and I do so without any nervousness or anxiety). I’ve received numerous financial industry rewards.

My success is due to one thing – my perseverance, at a time during my first year of college when I didn’t think I belonged in, or deserved to be at, college. I prevailed … and so can you!

If you find yourself in similar situation, or having similar feelings, realize this:
  • You deserve to be here. You’ve made it! – You are in college. You have every right to be here. You deserve this opportunity. It’s up to you to make the most of it!
  • Not all who apply to this college are offered admittance. You were admitted with the full expectation that you possess the talent and abilities to succeed here. We all want you to succeed – that’s why we welcomed you to our community of scholars on the first full day you were here.
  • Realize that scientific research has demonstrated that neither your intelligence, nor your I.Q., is fixed. The brain is malleable. With effort, practice, and exercise, new neural connections form in your brain. The result is that your intelligence, as measured by I.Q. scores, can and will increase.
  • You can, and will, make friends and join communities. Your campus is a great place to make friends, many of whom will become lifelong friends.

A student once wrote to me that he suffered miserably from loneliness his first semester. And then he joined the drama club on his campus. Not only did he make friends, but in his sophomore year he landed a small part in one of the plays. By his junior year he landed a leading role in another play. His self-confidence in social situations went from very low levels to very high levels. He learned to overcome his fears, and he then became outwardly friendly to others and a friend and mentor to many other students.

Many other of my students have written to me, in essays which I assigned in one of my classes, that they really didn’t find a lot of new friends on campus until they joined a couple of clubs and organizations. Some wrote that the first club they joined didn’t work out, so they just dropped out and joined another – and tried again until they found a “good fit” for them. If you have not yet done so - join a club or organization – this week!

Realize that in your freshman year, and often in subsequent years, EVERYONE will experience an academic setback (a grade, or many grades, below their expectations). And EVERYONE at one time or another – or for extended periods – will have awkward moments or periods when they feel that they don’t belong. These setbacks should not be interpreted by you as a sign you don’t belong in college, or that you are not going to succeed.


Another student I know lacked confidence in his abilities. “Everyone else seems so confident in class,” he told me. “Even when they take notes in class. I sometimes feel like I’m the only one who is lost.” I assured him he was not.

Every week I receive e-mails from students inquiring about how they should study for a particular class. (This past week I received over a dozen e-mails and visits, asking exactly that question.) And I often meet with students who doubt their own abilities. By reaching out to me, they have “crossed the threshold” – often I can empower them with a study method. At other times I refer them to another person on campus, perhaps a specialist in dealing with a particular issue, who can offer the needed guidance.

While each student’s situation is different, and the challenges and their solutions vary, perhaps the key is this …
I cannot promise you that every experience you have on any campus will be a positive one. At times you may have some negative experiences. But I can assure you that YOU BELONG HERE. You made the grades to get into college. You can, with effort and perseverance, and if you reach out for assistance, succeed at college.

Small decisions by you can yield big results. One student relayed to me that she overcame her poor writing skills when she made the decision to cross the threshold and entered the Writing Lab. She asked for her essay to be reviewed (before it was submitted in the class she was writing it for. She received valuable tips on the essay’s organization, the use of topic sentences in paragraphs, etc. Her resulting essay grades improved dramatically. And this led to improvements to her final grades in many classes, and to her cumulative GPA.

Another student was not doing well in College Algebra, but after his first test he started to do all of his homework in the math lab (a quiet place on most college campuses, where a proctor is often available to help out when students get stuck on a problem or concept. His grades in that, and subsequent math classes, improved dramatically. (And he was less distracted at studies.)

Still another of my students wrote to me that she expanded her comfort zone by sitting down with another person, who was all alone, in the dining hall. She adopted the role of interviewer, asking questions about the other person’s major, what they liked about the college and campus, what advice they would have for an incoming freshman, etc. (Asking questions – and listening and then asking follow-up questions – is a great way to start a relationship.) It turns out that the person she approached has some of the same issues she was dealing with. They remain friends to this day.

If you suffer a setback, and you begin to feel depressed, or feelings that you may not succeed here, there is so much help available at your college. Reach out and seize it.
  • Your fellow students.
  • Your Resident Assistants (they’ve been there – recently).
  • Your Residence Directors (they’ve also been there).
  • The Academic Success Coaches, and other advisors at the Student Success Center.
  • Peer tutors, available for most classes. Just ask at the Student Success Center. 
  • Your academic advisor.
  • Your professors.
  • Your coaches.
  • Your club's advisor.
  • The Health & Wellness Center - especially if you experience depression, test anxiety, nervous twitches, etc.
  • Your college's Career Development Center – particularly if you begin to question whether you are in the right major.
  • … and more!
Where do you begin? Contact your RA, RD, academic advisor, or coach – they can either assist you, or connect you with the right resources on campus. Or go directly to the support service you think might be able to assist you.

Remember as well to get to know the various Department Secretaries / Assistants – everyone knows that the all-important secretaries know everything, and are often the best starting point! (If you want an answer to a general question about the college, ask a professor. If you want the right answer, ask the Department secretary!)

Your Assignment: Write a letter to another freshman. This is an important exercise, which everyone can do. It will provide you with real insights, as you write the letter. Pretend to write a letter to “my brother/sister/friend, when you get to college.” Tell them what you’ve already learned. Give them tips on what it takes to succeed, and persevere, while at college.

Lastly, repeat after me, either:
  • (If you are presently alone, say out loud): “I am a, motivated to succeed. I am part of a diverse, caring community of scholars.”
  • (If you are with one or more others, say together, out loud): “We are scholars, motivated to succeed. We are part of a diverse, caring community of scholars.”
Some final thoughts …

College is a great place to grow and expand your comfort zone, a bit at a time. If not now, when?

Challenge yourself to become a better person – and student – each and every day.

Adopt S.M.A.R.T. Goals to propel you forward.

Develop yourself better into the person that others will follow.

Have a GREAT semester. Thank you.

16 Keys to Success in College

1. Adopt a mindset of continual self-improvement and personal growth. Possess a vision of your present and future self.

2. Obtain 9 hours 15 minutes (on average) of sleep to become more productive and to increase your capacity to learn.

3. When obstacles are presented, use your grit to persevere.

4. Accept personal responsibility for your own success – don’t blame others.

5. Possess S.M.A.R.T. goals – and review them daily. Live your life by design, not by default.

6. Don’t let others’ views – or your own limiting views – define your own future. Let go of self-judgment. Try it for a day!

7. Don’t lie down with dogs. Choose friends who also desire to be successful, and who work hard to be such! Otherwise, over time those who party too much and don’t desire to excel will pull you down.

8. Ooze confidence! (If you lack confidence, fake it until you become it! It works!)

Don’t wait until you are 50 to take a risk. Watch this video about Susan Boyle: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MfJVqCm_shc (5:50)

9. Expand your “comfort zone” – do one thing each day that scares you!

For an inspirational video on having “BIG TALK” (not “small talk”) with others, view: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=deScHJGoVc8 (6:23)

10. Rush toward your fear … for life is better on the other side!

For an inspirational video, “Be Fearless,” view: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NjjYVROiJIA (8:55)

11. Choose to want to succeed as much as you want to breathe! For inspirational videos from Eric Thomas, view: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lsSC2vx7zFQ (5:50) (for athletes)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H8Ju8hTUUMA (14:49) (for other scholars)

12. Live one day at a time. Be thankful that each day brings forth a new opportunity.

13. Express gratitude to others, always.

14. Practice kindness, compassion, and empathy.

15. Never say an unkind word about another.

16. For your choice of career … follow your heart.

Challenge yourself to become a better person – and student – each and every day. 

Dr. Ron A. Rhoades is an Asst. Professor of Finance at Western Kentucky University's Gordon Ford College of Business, where he chairs the (B.S. Finance) Financial Planning Program. An innovative, passionate teacher, he is the author of Choose to Succeed in College and in Life: Continously Improve, Persevere, and Enjoy the Journey (2014)from which many of these blog posts are derived.

Dr. Rhoades also serves as a consultant to the Garrett Planning Network, a nationwide network of independent, Fee-Only financial planners making competent, objective financial advice accessible to all people. He is the author of several books, dozens of articles, and he is a frequent speaker at financial planning and investments conferences. He is the recipient of many awards for his advocacy on behalf of the fiduciary standard. Dr. Rhoades is also a member of The Florida Bar, and he practices estate planning and transfer taxation for select current clients.

Dr. Rhoades and his wife, Cathy, reside in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

To contact Dr. Rhoades, please e-mail: WKUBear@gmail.com. Thank you.

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