I’m going to cut right to the chase, I took the ABGC board exam for the first time this summer and…I failed. I realize this is every new graduate student’s worst nightmare, but I am here to tell you that (1) the world did not end and (2) I have continued thriving. Since most students receive advice on how to avoid failure, I want to talk about how we deal with failure when it happens.
Failure can leave us overwhelmed and dejected especially when we experience failure during something as daunting as the board exam. These feelings may be amplified for the super ambitious, the “Type-A” perfectionists who tend to be attracted to the genetic counseling profession (*cough* me *cough*). Failure can leave us drained. We put a tremendous amount of time and energy into achieving something with the hope that our success will reenergize us and fill our tanks. However if we fail, our tanks remain empty, and we start to worry about how we will get to our next destination. This is why I believe we need to learn not only how to prevent an empty tank, but what to do when we are already on “E.”
Now for my radical proposal: embrace failure. Use it as a motivator, a tool for inspiration, and for a moment of reﬂection. We speed through life focused on the next destination, so when we unexpectedly stop (see empty gas tank analogy above), we have no idea what to do. Failure forces us to slow down and focus on our surroundings. Recognize what it took to get this far in the first place, the support you had on your journey, and the courage it took to venture into new territory. Making it through a master’s level graduate program during a pandemic is not for the faint of heart. Give yourself permission to be proud of what you have accomplished and how much you have grown as a student, as a genetic counselor, and as a person. Remember why you took this road in the first place, what inspired you then, and what inspires you now. Let that reinvigorate your passion for the field and motivate you to try again. Failure provides us new perspective. It can ignite an even greater sense of compassion and empathy for the failures experienced by our patients, colleagues and love d ones. Simply put, failure can transform us into even better versions of ourselves, if we let it.
So if you do find yourself driving down an unexpected road, do not panic. Embrace the challenge, reﬂect on how far you have come, and most importantly, keep going. Maybe even turn on your favorite tune while you’re at it- I would humbly recommend "Run the World" by Beyoncé. See you in February — ready to tackle the boards with renewed sense of self!