My Terrific College Failure

In my prior essay, Dare To Fail … Terrifically, I used the swaying rope bridge in Indiana Jones as a metaphor for overcoming the feeling of unease that inevitably comes when you try something new.  When I look back at my life, I wonder how it would have turned out if I had avoided all of my wobbly bridges.  For example, when I was twenty one, I was a junior in college.  Even though I had never seen a computer in my life, I decided to take a computer programming course as an elective.  Unfortunately, I entered a course with Computer Science majors, using a scientific language (FORTRAN), programming scientific applications.  I happened to be an Accounting major at the time, in the business division of the school.

Believe me when I tell you that during this class, I was swinging and swaying on that metaphoric rope bridge.  I vividly recall my feelings when I labored away in the computer lab as my peers came and went; completing their projects in a fraction of the time it took me.  As I sat there late in the evening, sometimes alone, I felt utterly stupid, thinking “What am I doing here?”  Long story short, I failed the course terrifically.

However, during this experience, I discovered a real passion for the art and science of programming.  I wasn’t very good at it – not yet.  In my journal at the time, I wrote: “I have found something intriguing, something that induces me to think, urging me to accomplish and master it.  I need to grasp this opportunity.  I cannot ignore it and look back and say ‘maybe.’  I must at least make an attempt.  I would rather admit that I failed than I didn’t try.”  I decided to get a degree in Computer Science.

Florence Foster Jenkins said, “People may say that I couldn’t sing.  But no one can say that I didn’t sing.”  Substitute “program” for “sing” and that was my attitude when I went to see my guidance counselor and tell him about my decision.  Well … the look on his face was priceless.  First he laughed, and then he suggested that my failure in the FORTRAN class “didn’t bode well for my new direction.”  He said, “Hey, you have a solid GPA in Accounting.  Why don’t you just stick with something you’re comfortable doing?”

That was all I needed to hear.  You see, throughout my life, when someone suggested to me, “stay comfortable,” – I always asked myself, “Why?”  So I’d have less regrets?  I have found that I regret the things that I didn’t do in life much more than the things I have done.  For example, never making that trip across Europe, never learning how to play a musical instrument, and not asking Pamela Redfield to the Junior Prom.

Against the advice of my guidance counselor, I decided to work towards a degree in Computer Science.  First I took a course in programming business applications, where I received a ‘B’ grade.  I was starting to get the hang of things.  Over the next two years, I achieved an ‘A’ in nine additional major courses, and completed my degree in Computer Science.  After college I was hired as a computer programmer for a manufacturing company.  And it all started with my terrific college failure in FORTRAN.

By Neal Benoit

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Next time: Responding To Failure.


4 thoughts on “My Terrific College Failure”

  1. Excellent, I love this! I also like the challenge of doing something that is not comfortable and often off the beaten path for people “my age” or other such confining concepts. But there are some situations like when security may be at risk, where I hesitate. I hope reading your posts will help me extend my courage into areas that I can find a bit scary! Thank you

  2. Neal , again you have inspired me ! I want to jump at something I never thought I could accomplish . I will pick one of those and watch me soar !!
    Keep you posted !!

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