Maverick Citizen


A chance to fail forward is one of the greatest gifts young people can be given


Zukiswa Pikoli is a journalist at Maverick Citizen.

Recently I have been thinking a lot about how our actions and learning from our failures build us and make us the people that we are, but only if we are honest about them.

When I finished matric, my 17-year-old self thought that I wanted to be a lawyer and so I dutifully applied to and was accepted at the University of Pretoria, even though I had not put much energy or effort into entering the noble profession.

However, it was not to be, because I failed that first year of varsity, much to my horror, as I had never failed anything in my life. But with honest introspection, I realised that my heart was not really in it, neither did I have the discipline required at the time to give it an honest shot. I eventually went on to a degree more suited to my latent talent of writing and civil society interests.

Writing had always been a talent that I knew I had, but I had never really thought of making a career out of it. I relegated it to only being used as a means of expressing my angst, as well as a creative outlet for my observations of the world. When I think about it, at the time I was not exposed to tangible opportunities to develop and become a writer whose writing would sustain me. I never knew that it would become a central part of my contribution to our society and that it would lead me into work that is not only meaningful but key to the values I imbibed as a child of pursuing social justice and equality.

I am not ashamed of my first year of university failure because what it did was steer me away from a course that was not for me at the time and towards where I was meant to be. It was also a learning that I was not being mindful or intentional in my academic and career aspirations. I, of course, do not take for granted that I had the support of family who did not admonish me but allowed me to fail, while insisting that I had to be failing forward, meaning that I had to learn from failing and make better decisions in future. I feel this is one of the greatest gifts that young people today can be given – a chance to fail forward.

Oprah Winfrey once said that “failure is just information and an opportunity to change your course”.

I may at some point go back to law, fortified by my experience of failure and having learnt the lesson.

What I believe, though, is that at any stage in life we must be willing to let go of the things that sound like a good idea but are ill-fitting, and not chastise ourselves. Seventeen-year-old me and 40-year-old me are all the better for it. DM168

Zukiswa Pikoli is a journalist at Maverick Citizen.

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.


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