Students need to be open about their struggles

Grace Leake

As students, we are constantly failing — and it’s time we become more open about it.

Last semester, UT student Ann Mark recorded a hilarious, immensely popular video which chronicled a series of misadventures she encountered while trying to get to her World Cinema History final. Garnering more than 10.2 million views, 142 thousand retweets and gaining the attention of local media, the video received both positive and negative feedback.

Most people saw Mark’s story as relatable and funny, but there were some who criticized her. At one point in the video, she admits to having not attended class “in like a month.” Some viewers blamed Mark for not being more responsible.

“I think the video got a lot of hate because people thought I was blaming the consequences for my actions on the world and that I was looking for pity, but that wasn’t the case at all!” said Mark, when asked how she was responding to the hate. “It was a testament to me admitting I made a stupid mistake and just laughing about it because, in all honesty, it was a funny situation.”

Mark’s reaction to her own mistake — recognizing it, laughing at it and moving forward — is an attitude UT students should embrace when dealing with failures. Students should be open and vulnerable about our mistakes, building a community of understanding and support.

At a highly ranked, competitive university like UT, we face tremendous amounts of pressure to succeed. When we inevitably slip up, it can be easy to fixate on that failure, to feel that it defines us. It is easy to look around us at our brilliant peers and feel that we are somehow inadequate.

However, this feeling of inadequacy isn’t based in reality. Studies show that we consistently underestimate the negative feelings of those around us, thinking that we are struggling more than our friends and acquaintances. This mindset, though false, can lead us to actually struggle more — negative thoughts and self-doubt are strongly correlated with higher test anxiety. This anxiety can actually lead to lower academic performance.

Additionally, research suggests that believing your peers are doing better than you directly lowers your performance. In one study, researchers falsely told students that other participants had already improved their score on a test by 20 percent, and that if they could do the same, they would receive a monetary reward. In this high-pressure scenario, participants reported more anxiety and scored worse than a control group. The takeaway? You’re not doing worse than other people, and believing that you are can actually lower your academic performance.

Rather than suffocating in this false, toxic mindset, we need to address our mistakes in an honest and open way, as Mark did in her video. We need to realize that everyone else is going through similar struggles. Rather than pretending that everything is fine when it’s not, we need to become more comfortable reaching out to our friends, peers and instructors. We need to talk about our problems. By being genuinely open, we can create a culture where we collaborate instead of compete, recognizing that we all need each other’s support to reach our full potential.

“I think it’s so much healthier to laugh at yourself when you make a mistake … It really happens to everyone,” Mark said. We are facing the same obstacles as everyone else — and by sharing them, we lessen their weight.

As we embark on a new semester, we need to allow ourselves to be honest and vulnerable about our struggles. We are far less alone than we think.

Leake is a Plan II and Business freshman from Austin.