It's scary when it happens this early, but honestly, most of life's powerful lessons are.
As finals period at my university wraps up, I'm looking back at what seems to be a whirlwind of lessons in a wonderfully triumphant year of -- what many have labeled -- successful moments. But as I've recently discovered, the greatest lessons in life never come from our successes but from our failures. Instinctually, I've always believed that failures were just opportunities of growth. From grades to relationships, I've learned that you should never get thrown off long-term when things don't work out. If you trust yourself -- that you did all that you could -- then you should know that failures are only here to teach us a lesson for the next challenges, the ones that really matter. That's really what life is all about.
So what's this big story that taught me this life-changing lesson? Well, I was very sick during my sophomore year in college. A lot of people didn't know because I lied to everyone about how I was feeling, including to myself. You see, at the end of last summer, I developed a unique algorithm for an iPhone application I created in three days that virtually every college professor in the nation said couldn't be done. Because I had no previous computer programming experience, I received press for it. While not a huge story, for the first time in my life, I was in a place that was all too unfamiliar to me. How exciting, right?
Well, with teenagers and journalists from South Africa to Asia sending me letters and emails inquiring or simply telling me how inspired they were by my story, it became overwhelming. At one point, I was receiving nearly a thousand per week. And along with answering these emails, I was balancing school and coding for several hours a week for my application. While it may not seem like a lot to many, any programmer would know what a job that was. And, at the time, I suffered deeply because of it.
Over the course of that time, I had developed what I thought was stress in my neck and whenever I would wake up in the morning for class, I couldn't breath. I attributed the pain to trivial things like the uncomfortable mattress in my dorm room or just needing a glass of water when the sun rose. But what it ended up being were swollen lymph nodes in my neck and severe exhaustion due to stress and anxiety. Honestly, what would I expect from staying up all night doing course work, answering emails and sleepwalking through the days telling myself that I was OK.
This was my wake-up call.
What I know now that I wish I knew then was that sleep and balance is a necessary part of our lives, especially when in the pursuit of success. Maybe it's the "college culture" to blame in suggesting that an all-nighter means guaranteed pay-off, but it doesn't. You see, the blood and passion that went towards my business was lacking in the most valuable and necessary commodity -- me. I was eventually hospitalized because the lymph nodes in my throat were so swollen that they had protruded out of my neck so far enough that it constricted my breathing. Could you think of a better sign that you need to make some changes in your life than being unable to breathe?
I'm still trying to answer that question.
Truth be told, falling down happens to everyone. It may not be as extreme as this instance, but the greatest lessons in falling -- or the ones that mean anything of substance -- come from getting back up and analyzing what had just happened. I don't spend too much time anymore living in the embarrassment after a failure but living in the teachable moment that becomes of it. I'll simply ask, "What can I learn and how can I be better for it?" I think that this thing called life is all about that. Nothing is here to punish us, but to help us become the highest version of ourselves.
I often find myself spoon-feeding myself this ideology like the world's worst cough medicine when failure's ugly head shows itself. But really, failures only help us understand ourselves in order fulfill our wildest dreams. Media mogul Arianna Huffington has even explained, "Failures are just stepping stones towards success rather than what many believe to be one in the opposite direction." I believe this more than anything I've ever known.
The irony comes when speaking of Arianna Huffington because it was she who contributed deeply to what has been the greatest lesson in my life in understanding both balance and responsibility when you're given incredible opportunities in life. During my sophomore year, the media mogul, herself, emailed me wanting me to write for The Huffington Post. It was this very opportunity to be able to tell my stories that taught me the power of balance and sleep. And for that, I'm thankful.
So today, I'm better for what I learned. I've slowed down and organized my life in a way that everything is moving along smoothly. But more importantly, I've learned to relax. Worrying does no good. It really doesn't. And I've been able to master the fact that every single thing in our respective lives happens for a reason.
As I prepare for summer break, I'm prepared for all the failures to come. Because really, they don't come without a successful breakthrough along with it. It's almost like the myth of Icarus suggests: No matter how high you fly, you're eventually going to have to fall. And honestly, I couldn't think of better things to be content with in all of life's unfortunate events. Because really, there aren't any. Every moment is a teachable one, and every day is one of growth. Learn from them instantly, and you will be better for it. And that would be the lesson I learned at 19.
Tywan Wade is a sophomore at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Read more about him in Impossible Dreams: The Story of Discovering My Superpowers.