Have you ever felt like you couldn’t possibly fail?

And not “couldn’t” as if no matter what you wrote, your teachers would never fail you. That’s not what I mean. But have you ever felt like you couldn’t possibly fail because of the implications of what would happen if you did?

The first thing you should know is that failure is a relative term. It depends entirely on how you define it. Sure, you can actually get an F on an exam at school or uni, but not everyone sets their benchmark as simply passing or failing a test.

A mate of mine used to always top our year in maths. Every single time. He would get 99% in an exam, and the next best mark in our year would be a 90. You think he’d be pretty stoked, right? Wrong.

He’d be sulking, beating himself up, absolutely furious at himself. Like a sad turtle withdrawn into its miserable shell, he would avoid everyone during lunch and sometimes not speak for the rest of the day.

Because he only got 99%.

I kid you not, he would be so upset at himself for making one silly mistake that if somebody not in the know saw him, they would think he was going through a breakup or a serious life tragedy.

Meanwhile, others who had studied just as hard and actually failed the exam would be pretty disappointed too, but not end-of-the-world disappointed.

So how can someone who received 99% and someone who received an F in the same exam have the same negative response? It’s because failure is a truly personal thing. Everyone has their own goals and everyone has varying levels of determination to achieve them.

Why were my friend’s goals so high? Maybe it was because people always expected him to be the best at maths, or maybe his parents put pressure on him to succeed. It could be that he hated knowing he hadn’t reached his full potential. It was likely a combination of all the above, but whatever it may have been, the reasons were unique to him and him alone.

Next time you have an exam, ask yourself what mark you would consider to be a personal pass or fail. Take note of how much pressure you feel to reach this target and try to think why that is. What are the consequences of failing? Are there really any at all?

Are these pressures coming from within or from outside sources? And if there is pressure from others, try to determine why the standard has been set so high and why you feel the need to reach it.

Setting your own benchmarks is a great thing to do. But if you’re going to set your own goals, know that in challenging yourself failure is always possible. In fact, if you’re really challenging yourself then it’s likely to happen at some point. Accept that it could happen then try anyway.

If you accept failure before it happens, it’ll soften the blow. And if you don’t fail then it’ll sweeten the success. Either way, don’t go beating yourself up about it. If you worked your ass off and tried your hardest then what more could you possibly ask of yourself?

Need some help studying? Suss our Year 12 Survival Guide for study tips that actually work.