Wednesday, September 23, 2015

My Failure was a Blessing in Disguise

My lecturer confirmed last Friday that I had failed my industrial placement module for year 3 semester 1.

This revelation had actually lifted much anxiety that had been weighing me down ever since I began my supplementary attachment. I had been feeling insecure over my industrial placement grade, thinking of how badly I had done. There was even a side of me that hoped that my grade would miraculously be good. At least now, the truth has come knocking: I can conclude that I had flunked.

Despite my failings, I was thankful my lecturers did not give up on me. They believed that there was potential in me to do better. And this was why they decided to give me a second chance by letting me undertake a supplementary placement.

Initially, I felt rather apprehensive about this supplementary placement, as it would be my final shot at proving my calibre as a social worker- if I don’t get my act up, it would sadly indicate that I wasn’t suited for this profession. Knowing that this was the last chance I had to prove my worth, I went all out. I had to push myself to get equipped with the adequate skill sets for this profession. The time had come for me to stop being a “client”. I had to step up to show my competencies as a social worker.

As it turned out, repeating this industrial placement module happened to be one of the best things that has ever happened to me! The challenges I encountered were no doubt daunting, but they were just what I needed to learn and grow in my pursuit of the vocation I am called into.

In an attempt to redeem myself, I was, in a way, “coerced” to learn to do things right.

During my previous placements, I made some serious errors regarding my written assignment and daily journals. My misinterpretation of the task requirement led me to the wrong approach, which resulted in me being heavily penalised, one of the main reasons why I failed.

My daily journals used to be filled with egocentric narratives about my experiences, thoughts, opinions, and immature “preachings”. To make things worse I so naively believed they would enable me to do well and wrote up to 10 times more words than the required word limit. The truth was, I lacked professionalism: the world doesn’t revolve around me.

Using a particular friend’s journal entries as reference, I was struck by the level of critical thinking professionals should have in their journal entries. Though writing in this manner was not something I was comfortable with, I needed to alter my narrow worldview to excel in this profession. I forced myself to step out of my comfort zone, I was determined not to repeat the same mistakes.

To get adequate content for my daily reflections, I asked more questions and took the initiative to offer my assistance whenever possible, leading me to gain more insights and new experiences.

Through a meeting with one of the lecturers, I learnt that I had made a grave mistake in the way I wrote my written assignment. Similarly to my journal, I had written it in the form of a “diary entry”.

Ashamed by my ignorance, and in my desperate need to do well in my written assignment, I started to inquire more whenever there were opportunities. The new internship environment I was placed in was highly supportive. Colleagues provided me with deeper insights on the application of theories and professional strategies I could use in my written assignment. Furthermore, I learnt to do referencing for the first time, which was something I had been excusing myself from all this while.

Repeating this placement not only helped me to develop more professionally in terms of my writing, it enabled me to break away from my own narrow minded assumptions of how things should be, opening my eyes to how professionals in the social work sector work.

On a more personal level, this attachment brought a paradigm shift to my perceived ideas about what I can achieve. Often focused on my physical and cognitive impediments, I would set limitations on what i can do. Admittedly, I often allow the fear of failure to inhibit me from trying.

However, this time it was urgent. I could not continue to be insecure, unless I wanted to be disqualified from ever becoming a social worker. Thus, I acceded to whatever was required of me, which included lugging my heavy laptop all the way to and from office, and staying late at night for the night shift.

Not only did I have to carry my heavy and bulky materials for work to office, I took around 1 hour to travel per direction. Hence, the fatigue of traveling often overwhelmed me before I even started work. Moreover, I would arrive before 9 am and leave after 9 pm at least once a week! For anyone, this tiresome lifestyle would be so draining already. It was even more exhausting for me, someone who is so flawed in terms of cognitive and physical abilities.

Regardless of the difficulties of this supplementary placement, I simply strived, taking on whatever came my way… and I am proud to say: I did it!

Now as I look back, I am glad I challenged myself. I could make those milestones after all! The improvements were only made possible because I dared to try. I found sufficient courage to give myself this chance largely because I wanted to surpass my limitations.

Surely, this experience indicates that I can certainly expect more from myself. As the days go by, I'm getting stronger and the things I can handle have improved tremendously. I just have to believe in myself, that I can achieve little but nonetheless significant milestones to my eventual success.

Failures are an unavoidable part of life, whether we like it or not. But they can also be opportunities for growth when we embrace them. At times, the defeat may be crushing to our souls. Nevertheless, we are invited to regain our foothold and use failures as stepping stones to success.

For me, this failure is akin to a door to hone my abilities for my future, which helped me to develop in ways I never would have imagined.

By Matthew Tan Ser Yung, Diploma in Social Science (Social Work)  

Matthew is 20 and pursuing his Diploma in Social Sciences (Social Work) at NYP. He may have suffered a traumatic brain injury in a judo competition and may have lost his hopes of becoming a judo champion,  but he has found new passion and interest in writing. He is happy to share how he feels and thinks, and hopes to encourage his readers with his writing.


  1. Matthew, thank you for sharing your beautiful journey. It is bold and humble for you to share of your previous mistakes. However, it is heart-warming to know of how far you have come and learnt to overcome the difficulties/challenges.
    You are setting a great example for everyone, not just people who have disabilities.
    Very proud of you. May you continue to journey on to achieve your goals and become a good Social Worker :)

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  3. thank y'all!!

    every affirmation and well wish goes a long way to encourage me:)

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