By David Boroto, University of Toronto chapter
High school was not really a challenge for me academically. I mean, I put effort into my studies; I attempted all the assigned practice questions, sought help from my teachers when needed, and often spent my Friday evenings studying (before playing a few games of FIFA against my boarding school roommate)! I prided myself on having a strong work ethic. Academics came naturally to me, but when I didn’t understand something, I worked hard to make sure I did by the time exams rolled around. Even as a child, I remember always starting my homework on the car ride home because I just couldn’t wait to get it done! However, since coming to the University of Toronto, I have failed to adapt to the added challenge that comes with a post-secondary education and maintain that same work ethic that’s brought me success thus far in my life.
Second year was especially tough for me. I study in the Engineering Science program at UofT, and it’s well known within our EngSci community second year is the toughest. By the end of first semester I had stopped attending most of my lectures, did not attempt my problem sets and spent a lot of time in my room watching Netflix or playing Hearts on my phone. My roommates would place bets with each other about what time in the afternoon I would get out of bed. I wasn’t my usual self, and I failed to identify why. I blamed it partially on the dark, gloomy Toronto winter, a little bit on the dimly lit basement apartment I was living in at the time, and a lot on the fatigue I felt due to a tough academic semester. It was all external, I told myself. And as I experienced high levels of stress, as my marks slipped and as my mental health deteriorated I looked to everyone and everything except for myself for reasons.
But I realize now, one year later, that I was wrong to look externally because although my external conditions have improved, I still find myself tired, unmotivated and uninspired. It is now clear that my true failure was not to look internally and adjust my own attitude instead of blame the world around me for my struggles. I failed to identify the causes of my stress and develop sustainable methods to mitigate their effects. Looking back, second year was a missed opportunity for me to reflect, dig deep and learn to motivate myself when I feel discouraged. In hindsight, I see how isolating myself in my room contributed to my poor mental state and now realize how important it is for me to reach out to my support networks and talk through my thoughts and emotions with others. I realize that I didn’t take the time to get to know “university David” and understand what he needed to succeed under this new challenge, as I relied too much on the habits that got “high school David” through. I failed to develop good working habits and motivational techniques for when I felt demotivated, and am working now to discover what methods work best for me. Most of all, I learned to look internally when facing failure and that placing the blame externally only allowed my problems to perpetuate and affect me more deeply.
I find it interesting now, as I conclude with this learning, that I’ve spent the past few weeks editing failure stories throughout the organization, pushing their authors to reflect deeply on their own failures and take full responsibility for them having only just done so myself. It is truly powerful to see our core values as an organization put into practice and used first hand, and to experience, personally, the power of admitting failure.
David Boroto hails from Stellenbosch, South Africa by way of Yorkton, Saskatchewan and Victoria, British Columbia. He is currently a third year engineering student at the University of Toronto, specializing in Infrastructural Engineering, and he is the vice-president of Member Learning at EWB UofT. David is also one-third of this year’s Failure Report editing team.