Dealing With Failure

by Johnny McNulty

Aside from applications to Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Stanford and Duke, most kids at Penn have never failed at anything. But among the many reasons I love fall is that every year I get to see the faces of young people they smash into the brick wall of reality. Ah, to watch the range of emotions as a girl gets back a B- on Spanish homework, first mildly disappointed, then shocked as she remembers that with grade inflation the class average is high enough to be a fever, transitioning into sheer anger as she vows to get her maid fired for this, despite her maid’s repeated pleadings that as a Brazilian she speaks Portuguese. It’s like watching your first sunset with that special someone.

As much as I enjoy seeing the bubblegum of youth collapse onto the sticky face of adulthood, I have decided to lend to you youngsters (for this is my fifth fall at UPenn) some of my hard-earned wisdom when it comes to dealing with setbacks in academia. For, as the saying goes, “If at first you don’t succeed, that will be factored into your GPA.”

1. Create A Non-Medical Disability For Yourself

When you get a bad grade in a course, everyone will know about it, and they’re all going to be disappointed in you, because you had so much promise. But if you change your “life story” from one of absolute brilliance to that of a vague hardship that both inspires and lowers expectations, people will appreciate your meager accomplishments as if they were the work of an able-minded person who actually did well. For example, if your course is Accounting, point out that Arthur Anderson accidentally listed your father as deceased on a payroll, causing his company to murder him. Or if it’s a History course on Vietnam, claim to be John McCain, saying the memories are still too painful to study thoroughly.

2. Become involved in student groups that stress something or other over grades.

“We’re all prisoners of a system, man, that pressures us not to study to learn, not to study to learn, man, but to study for the grade! I learned just as much as those other kids, but I didn’t buy into the system. That’s why I do “community service” for the “poor” on behalf of “Christ,” man.”
Or, at least that’s what all the “God Hippies” sound like to me, but they do do a pretty good job of insulating themselves and making each other feel good about the fact that good grades don’t count as much as “good deeds” when it comes to getting into “Heaven” which I guess is the MIT of the afterlife. All I’m saying is you didn’t get in the first time…

3. Write for a student publication

Even if you take on academics like an in-season wrestler at a buffet table, people will forget your tendency to way overload your plate and then damage your esophagus at the first sign of a test if you pester them with enough Facebook events about your most recent article on Or you could bring back the now-defunct Quake, so you could use your still-pert breasts to deflect attention from your sagging GPA. Or you could write for the DP, which would ensure no human contact on your part at all.

4. Enroll in Fine Arts

While this won’t ever result in a remotely remunerative career, you do get to be vaguely sexy, sexily vague, and totally unmotivated until you’re 30, when you realize that Graphic Designer is the highest attainable position on the Graphic Designer career ladder. This is the point at which you go back to grad school and actually study this time.

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