by Noreen Goraya
My entire life, failure has never been an option. As the first child of immigrant parents in a country they so desperately wished to make home, it was always emphasised to me how important education was. Up until the ripe old age of 17, my report cards were littered with As, my walls were decorated with awards and metals, and in my school hallways I was known as the quiet, smart one. I was smart, effortlessly so. I never once studied, finished all my work at school and was constantly yelled at by my mother to have a more disciplined attitude towards school.
I never once questioned my lack of studying and was self-assured by my consistently high grades. Until I failed. My first semester of university I failed three courses and all of a sudden life as I once knew it, was over. Everything came to a crashing and chaotic halt. I was no longer smart; I was no longer the girl with the great grades. I was no longer the great hope for my parents. I was no longer special. Instead, I became someone who cried herself to sleep and on her way to classes, someone who could not understand why she was struggling so hard. And with the weight of her own failures coupled with the shame and disappointment she faced from her own parents every day, I became someone who burned out completely.
My mental health disintegrated to the point where I could no longer go a day without crying. Some days I was fulfilled and happy, other days the emptiness inside me ached to the point of physical pain. As I struggled and suffered, what kept me going was the fact that I kept going. It mattered heavily that I’d failed, but it also mattered to me that I kept moving forward. Failure could be an option, but stopping was not.
When I think about the life lessons I’ve been given, I wish someone had told me that it was okay to fail. That failure is an option and no one is exempt from it. People fail all the time. But it’s what you do with your failure that matters. You prioritise, you think over your options, you figure out what went wrong, and then, most importantly, you move forward. You keep going. Maybe you won’t go in the direction you had initially planned, maybe it seems as though you’re taking a step back to move forward, but what matters is that you never, ever stop.
I’ve learned that what you want for yourself matters more than anything else. As the first-born daughter of parents who have fought to make Canada their home, I have learned so much about gratitude and thankfulness. But somewhere along the way I lost a bit of myself. I forgot to dream for myself. Failing hard and struggling with my own mental health, I learned that it’s okay to be a little selfish. It’s okay to want things for yourself. It’s okay to change your mind even when it involves decisions that people closest to you do not agree with. What matters is what you want for yourself. You are allowed to change your mind because as people we are constantly evolving. Our new experiences shape our subsequent decisions and us.
As women, we are sometimes afraid to be selfish with ourselves, in a world where we are constantly looked upon as nurturing and caring creatures. So damsels, I will tell you what I hoped someone had told me. Learn to be okay with failure, learn to let change happen and most importantly, learn to be a little selfish. Learn to put yourself first, learn to pose questions to yourself. How will this affect me? How will I come out of this? You are your priority damsels, don’t let anyone or anything fool you into thinking otherwise.