A Successful Failure: The Journey of a Non-traditional College Student

By Abigail Morris

“What do you want to do when you grow up?”

As a child, I loved when I was asked this question. The endless possibilities for what my future held drove my intellectual curiosity; and they pushed me to discover my passions as well as chances to experiment with new opportunities without fear of failure. Because of this, my answer drastically changed multiple times throughout the course of my adolescence. This constant change was encouraged by the adult figures in my life that I looked up to…

…until it wasn’t.

You see, like many others, when I reached high school, I was expected to have a solid game plan in place. I was expected to have a career in mind that I wanted to pursue, a path laid out for myself. By the time that I graduated from high school, I was expected to follow through with that agenda until I had reached success. Fortunately, I failed.

That’s right, folks. I failed.

My photography website when I studied graphic design.

Within the span of five years, I changed my major three times, and proceeded to drop out of college twice due to varying circumstances. Each time my path changed (or my major changed), I felt like I was drifting further away from success. At least, from the personal definition of success that had been ingrained in me by the adult figures in my life whom I looked up to.

This image of success that I had created years before of a fulfilled life for myself became less and less transparent, and the insecurity of this vague path that I had laid out in my head began to overwhelm me. I found myself oftentimes discouraged from my own indecisiveness, which quickly lead to feelings of guilt and shame. However, as I sit here now and reflect on my long academic career, I am realizing that each “failure” I faced aided me in my journey to where I am today.

Courses that I used to regret from my prior majors have ended up providing me with more valuable insight and have expanded my skillset that can be utilized effectively within my ideal future of working in the marketing field. Courses on photography and graphic design have provided me insight on the art terminology and principles needed to collaborate with other creative individuals in marketing. All the business law and management courses taught me how to read contracts, research marketing data, and sell my art. Philosophy courses allowed me to better comprehend business ethics. And lastly, the psychology courses have helped me understand the importance of a strong brand identity.

First Pop-Up Market as a Business Owner

I initially perceived these courses as wasted time with each change of my major. In hindsight, I have found that each course has functioned as a “building block” of sorts: helping build me as a future asset to any working team, adding to my repertoire, and guiding me on a path that I feel confident (or more confident) in.

For those who find themselves feeling confused and unsure about who they are or what path they want to follow with their lives, know that’s it is ok to not know right away. College is not created to break students or to push them into a preconceived mold that discourages them from the process of self-discovery. Quite the opposite. College is meant to be an opportunity for an individual to experiment, to try new things, and to discover a pursuit that truly interests them, even if it leads them on a completely different path than what the student initially had in mind upon enrolling. I know that if I kept with the original plan that I created for myself in high school, I would have been miserable.

For me, it took years of hard work and self-reflection to really understand what kind of career I would find personal fulfillment in. And to be completely honest, there are some aspects of my future that I’m still unsure about. (For example: I don’t know if I want to pursue a master’s degree right away after obtaining my bachelor’s, or if I want to throw myself directly into the work force.) However, the confidence I have gained throughout my lengthy amount of time here in college has given me a drive that I haven’t felt in years. Failures are an exercise in building exactly that: confidence. And I personally know that without those self-described “failures” I experienced, I wouldn’t have pushed myself to work towards a better, more promising future.