How do you deal with failure, even when you tried your very hardest?

I’m currently a senior in high school about to go into college.  The thing is, I’ve worked my butt off in high school and I thought I did everything right to get into the most elite colleges.  When college decisions came back, I was rejected at the four universities that I really wanted to go to.  Now I will be attending UC Berkeley next year.

My question is, how do I avoid getting this same sort of situation to happen to me once I finish college?  I’m pretty sure I can get superb GPAs and GMAT scores, along with a variety of extracurriculars but I keep having this nagging feeling that even if I “do” everything “right”, I will come up short once again in the end.

So I guess my real question is, how do you deal with failure, even when you tried your very hardest for a very long time?

The Harvard MBA says:

First of all, getting into UC Berkeley isn’t a failure, even if it isn’t as good as getting into Stanford (Go Cardinal!).  Indeed, many of my friends went to Cal, and managed to do pretty well for themselves despite this “handicap.”

More seriously, Berkeley is an elite educational institution, especially in this part of the country, and you shouldn’t beat yourself up.  I can tell you that I’m more likely to hire a Cal grad than a Columbia or Brown grad (sorry guys!).

A bigger issue is your current attitude towards failure.

Failure is an inevitable fact of life.  Everyone fails, which is to say, everyone experiences times when reality fails to meet their expectations.

You can decide that failure indicates a fundamental unworthiness, or you can decide that failure simply helps you uncover opportunities for improvement.  The former represents what Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck calls the “fixed” mindset, while the latter represents the “growth” mindset.

Dweck’s work shows that the growth mindset is consistently associated with both greater happiness and higher levels of achievement.

Right now, your question shows a fixed mindset; for the sake of your long-term happiness and success, I suggest that you work on developing a growth mindset, where failure is not the devastating evidence of incompetence, but a valuable signal of where to focus one’s efforts.

For more on mindsets, check out this blog post:

For more on failure, check out the notes from the Silicon Valley Junto that I co-hosted on this topic:


  1. Julia S.
    Posted May 5, 2009 at 6:27 pm | Permalink


    Why wouldn’t you hire someone from Columbia?

  2. admin
    Posted May 7, 2009 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

    Not that I wouldn’t hire somebody from Columbia, just that I’d rather hire someone from Berkeley.

    Berkeley is far superior in terms of engineering and the sciences, and a Berkeley grad is more likely to be successful in the Silicon Valley millieu.

  3. James K.
    Posted August 27, 2012 at 4:46 am | Permalink

    Where does Northwestern figure on your hiring priority list?

  4. The Wretched
    Posted October 14, 2012 at 1:37 am | Permalink

    Failure is great only when you know where you’ve failed.

    When you have no idea, it is a guinea worm burrowing its way into your brain.

    Thrust into a situation out of my control but almost certainly based on my own actions/inactions, I cannot awaken a day without cursing myself.

    The shame of failure does not subside.

    When you fail, you can only pick yourself up when you have an opportunity. When you don’t, you must accept your fate. Accepting your failed fate is accepting your detractors’ take on you. It is losing.

    Losing is hell.

    Life can not go by quickly enough.

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