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Part of Western Governors University

January 31, 2019

Student Success

Learning from failure.

By WGU Missouri Chancellor Angie Besendorfer

Learning from failure

What is the most important lesson to learn in college? Granted it is practically impossible to pinpoint down to one thing and it likely varies from student to student. 

However, I recently heard that an elite university president shared that the thing his students need to learn is how to fail.  Keep in mind that this university requires elite GPAs and SAT scores demonstrating lack of failure, yet he reported his students need to learn to fail.

The intriguing thought that the best and brightest who worked diligently to achieve the scores and criteria to meet admittance criteria at the highest levels are missing the important lessons of failure.

As the new year begins, I have taken a chance to look back in relation to my career journey.  Clearly, I have learned a lot over the years.  Some important lessons have been learning from mistakes which have developed a new lens for viewing situations in the future. 

Life experiences can provide the best foundation for a strong next step.  Failure of any size can be a springboard to the right solution, the best next step and even the necessary direction for a new beginning. 

As we get older and wiser, I believe we value the journey along the way.  Battle scars from a journey can be seen as experiences that shape a person.  These rough times can serve as the strongest motivation to do better, be more and create success. 

In visiting with human resources leaders, I am hearing a shift from reviewing resumes for the perfect paper to one that understands the toughness of hard times and yes, even failure.

Taking the long way around.

Just look at the success of WGU Missouri graduates.  A typical WGU Missouri graduate has taken the long way around.  They have had a pit stop here or there.  With an average age of 37 when they earn a bachelor’s degree, it’s clear that they didn’t take the easy way to their goals. 

Yet, when surveyed, 98% of employers say WGU grads “meet” or “exceed” expectations.  The clearest evidence that success can happen after detours and missteps is that even though 73% of WGU students work full time while attending school, graduates increase their salary by $21,200 within 4 years of graduating.  This compares to the national average for college graduates’ salary increase of $12,000.

It is encouraging to see people “seasoned” with a failure or two or three achieve.  The planned path with a straight line from where you are to your pictured success can lack many important lessons that will serve you well. 

So, don’t let detours and hard times become permanent, rather create your route to success.  It doesn’t need to be a straight line. Driving the curvy road can be an adventure that when you arrive you have so much more to share than the alternative.

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