dreams to be a doctor. But, she was in for a rude awakening.
I entered my freshman year in college, very certain of my future academic success. I came from a rigorous magnet public high school where my peers were extremely talented. I had won a prestigious academic scholarship to Duke. I had gotten a 5 on my AP Chemistry, AP BC Calculus, AP Physics Exams. I had also taken AP English, AP Spanish and AP US History.
I was cocky. There I said it. I thought nothing could get in my way. I was so confident that I signed up for Organic Chemistry my Freshman year. It was a small class for just 50 of us freshman who had received a 5 on our AP Chem class. I still thought I was better than my peers. I had worked hard in high school, but I also had done well and with competitive peers. I thought college would be no different. I would work hard (but not too hard) and rise to the top. Like always.
And, then I took my first Organic Chemistry midterm and got a 55. Yes, a 55. As the only grade, I received a stern letter from my Scholarship that my GPA at midterm time did not meet the minimum requirement. I was almost in danger of losing my scholarship two months into school.
In retrospect, getting that 55 was the single best thing that has ever happened to me.
It showed me that I will not necessarily be the “smartest” person in the room. As competitive as my high school was, it was no match for the best and brightest at Duke. I was no longer simply guaranteed to be the smartest in a class.
But what I can control is the amount of work I put in. I can work the hardest. And that 55 reflected a failure of preparation on my part, not a failure in my capabilities. Sure, I thought I studied. But, clearly, not in the correct manner.
I’ve now come to learn that’s the difference between a growth mindset and fixed mindset, as psychologist Carol Dweck describes. That 55 showed me that I actually had a growth mindset. I didn’t assume I wasn’t capable of improving or that it indicated I wasn’t intelligent enough. It just meant I hadn’t prepared.
So I changed course. I attended every open office hours our professor had (yes, I was THAT girl). I buckled down. I quit the club tennis team and several other groups I had joined to give Organic Chemistry the attentiont it deserved. And, I raised that 55 to a B- (still my lowest grade in college), and ultimately to a B my second semester.
Learning early on that my success and/or failure was not an affirmation (or lack thereof) of my inherent intelligence was the single most important lesson of college.
Thrive when challenged. Use failure as a foundation for future success, and not as a setback.