Learning and Accepting Failures

Failures are unpleasant and unwanted experiences. When you encounter a failure, you may feel hopeless, anxious, have self-doubts, and even depressed. But let’s face it, failures are part of life. We simply can’t go through life without encountering any failures. 

While encountering failures suck and can bring you sadness, it is extremely important to accept your failures and learn from them. And therein lies the absolutely crucial key – to learn from them. It is also important not to label yourself as a “failure.” 

Some examples of my personal failures

Some readers may read this blog and think that we are doing so well and don’t face the ups and downs of everyday life. If you have this impression, please think again. Mrs. T and I have certainly encountered our share of failures. 

Here are some examples of my own personal failures.

Failing math midterm at university 

I still remember the very first math midterm in my first year of university – MATH 100 Differential Calculus with Applications. I studied hard and reviewed the materials before the midterm and thought I would do quite well. 

I felt pretty confident while writing the midterm and thought I did well. Maybe not aced it but probably good enough to get a B+ or a B. 

When I got my midterm result back a few days later, I was shocked. On the paper, the professor wrote my grade with a red pen on it – 45%! Having always been very good at math and thinking that I had done well with the midterm, I was completely stunned, confused, and devastated.

When my friends asked about my midterm mark, I wanted to dig a hole in the ground and hide. I was so embarrassed and sad to get my very first F… ever!!!

Later when I got back to my room in the dormitory, I went through the midterm more thoroughly and realized why I had failed – I had made critical mistakes on two or three basic mathematical formulae! No wonder all the results were completely wrong! 

Losing sleep over my last university exam

I graduated from engineering physics at UBC, probably one of the hardest undergraduate programs at UBC. It was completely normal for Fizzers (students in engineering physics) to take 7 courses each term. It was not unusual to take even 8 courses (I’ve done that a few times, and it was completely insane. Some friends of mine had taken up to 9 courses in a term). By comparison, many UBC students take only 4 or 5 courses a term. 

In my last year of engineering physics, I took some really hard courses, such as Statistical Mechanics, Optics, and Applied Partial Differential Equations. One course in particular – Engineering Materials Laboratory – gave me nightmares for years. 

The Engineering Materials Laboratory course wasn’t even a 400 level course (i.e. 4th year). Rather, it was a 200 level course that we ended up taking in the last year of the program. Maybe because it was a 200 level course, many of us didn’t take it seriously at all.

We didn’t take the course seriously at all which was probably why about 90% of us failed the midterm…


The midterm mark was supposed to be worth 40% of our final grade. Since the majority of the class bombed the midterm, the professor, being the nice guy he was, decided that the final would be worth 100% of our final grade.

A great idea right?

Well, that added a tremendous amount of pressure to do well on that final. 

The final exam was supposed to last 2.5 hours. After about 30 minutes, one of my classmates got up, handed in the exam, and left the room. We were surprised that he had finished the exam so quickly! 

Afterwards, everyone else was glued to their seats, writing furiously. 

With about 15 minutes left, everyone was still deep into the exam, so the professor decided to give us another extra 30 minutes to finish/

Even with the 30 minute extension, nobody handed in the exam before the end of time. Seeing that we were all struggling and needed more time, the professor gave everyone another extension of 30 minutes. In other words, the exam was extended by a total of one hour. 

At the end of 3.5 hours, we all grumbled when handing in our papers. Outside, we talked among ourselves and we all agreed that it was a ridiculously difficult exam. We also found that the only person that handed in the exam early had given up completely and planned on repeating the course next year. 

“Let’s hope the prof scales the exam!” That was the most frequently voiced comment among my classmates. 

I was super worried that I had failed the exam. Because it was my last exam, I was terrified that if I failed, I couldn’t graduate, and therefore had to take the course again the following school year. 

In my mind, I was already thinking about having to return to UBC for an extra term just to finish this course. By then I was already applying for full time jobs, so I was also thinking about the lost job opportunities and lost salary. 

I had many restless nights for the next two or three weeks. Even after finding out that I got a passing grade on this exam, I would occasionally still have nightmares about failing this final exam and having to repeat the course.

For years after graduating, I still would occasionally wake up at night dreaming that I had failed Engineering Materials Laboratory! Fortunately, that nightmare finally disappeared in recent years. 

The stupid high speed wires

A few months after I started working full time, I was summoned by my manager. I had been working on electrical tests on our customer’s platforms for the last couple of months. As it turned out, the customer was failing these electrical tests at a lab in California. Because of these failures, the customer couldn’t get the required industrial certification to launch the products.

To make matters worse, the customer was planning to launch those products at a big industrial event in the upcoming weeks. 

This was a critical issue and had a multi-million dollar business impact. The customer had already sent a couple of engineers from Japan to California in an attempt to resolve these failures. Because I was the one person who was the most familiar with the tests and the platforms, my manager told me to pack my bags and get on a plane to California that evening to help debug the issues onsite.

We spent the next few days debugging the issues at the test lab and eventually narrowed down the potential root causes. 

After many trials and errors, we concluded that the issues could be resolved by shortening the printed circuit board (PCB) traces and soldering additional microscopic electrical components (0201 package type or 0.6 x 0.3 mm in case anyone’s curious) to filter out noises and strengthen the “good” electrical signals.

Because the test lab didn’t have the proper equipment to do the modifications by hand, we flew back to Vancouver to do everything at my work’s lab. We worked till past midnight and then flew back down to California the next morning. 

To everyone’s surprise, the platforms continued to fail the test cases. 

Puzzled, I jumped on a conference call with my colleagues to figure out what was going on. One of the senior engineers asked what kind of wires I used for the modifications to shorten the PCB traces. 

I failed to realize that special high speed wires were required for these modifications!

No wonder the tests were failing still.

So, it was another round of flying back to Vancouver, doing the modifications late into the night, and flying back to California the next day to run the tests.

Luckily, the third time was the charm!

In the end, the customer was able to launch the platforms at the big industrial event, but I received grief for the extra expenses. Not to mention making our company look bad in front of the customer. 

All because of the stupid high-speed wires!

A few years later, I found out my manager defended me in front of upper management and saved my job. Thanks to this manager I have spent more than a third of my life at the same company. 

Failing first aid practical exam

Many years ago, I volunteered to become one of the first aid attendants at my work. This required me to complete and pass the occupational first aid level 2 course. Although I have completed standard first aid many times due to my participation in Scouts, occupational first aid level 2 was on a different level (one week of 9-5 first aid training). 

To get the certificate, one must pass the written exam and the practical exam. I passed the written exam with flying colours.

The practical exam was a different matter.

For the practical exam, each student was given a different scenario that he/she had to assess and treat. All of the scenarios were very tricky.

I can’t remember my exact scenario but it involved someone accidentally setting an explosion at an oil refinery plant. There was something about one of the patients being diabetic as well.

Anyway, about 2 minutes into my practical exam, I was told that I have done multiple things completely wrong. Then at the end of my practical exam, I was told that I had failed.

I immediately felt ashamed, while one of my classmates in front of me had failed the practical exam, the other two classmates in front of me passed the practical exam. I felt terrible. I also had to call my work’s HR to tell them that I had failed the exam and had to pay an additional fee to take the exam again. 

That was one tough phone conversation for me.

To my surprise, the HR lady was actually very nice and very supportive. She told me that it was not unusual for people to fail the practical portion of the exam.

Later, after talking to my classmates, I learned that about half of the class had failed the practical exam! 

I eventually passed the practical exam a few weeks later, after studying all the materials and practicing different scenarios with some of my classmates that also failed the class. 

Learning and Accepting Failures 

These are just some failures I have encountered personally. These aren’t the only failures I have faced, I certainly have encountered a lot more failures so far in my life (some were quite severe).

What I have learned is that it’s important to accept failures and learn from them. Even more vital is not to repeat these failures again and again. 

So what are some lessons I’ve learned from the three examples? 

  • Don’t take things for granted, always review the basics
  • Never assume things are easy just because of some numbers
  • Always put in the work, practice, practice, practice
Allen Iverson practice
  • Pay attention to the fine details, because they matter
  • Ask for help, especially from people who are more experienced than you
  • Always see failures as a learning experience 
  • It’s OK to feel sad, frustrated, and upset. But don’t dwell on these negative feelings. Pick yourself up and see what you can do next to overcome the failure. 

Similarly, after DIY investing for 15 years, I have made many mistakes and seen my share of failures. I certainly have learned these five hard lessons as an investor. 

To summarize the five hard lessons are:

  1. Know thyself. What kind of investor are you?
  2. Time in the market is far more important than timing the market
  3. Analysts are right only 50% of the time
  4. When speculating, limit your exposure and have an exit plan
  5. You are never done learning

Many investors, especially new investors, have the tendency to read analysts’ reports and price targets. But many of these analysts only get their “predictions” correct 50% of the time. Some have an even worse track record. If you think about it, an analyst is one job that one gets paid a lot of money and doesn’t need to be correct all the time.

I have also learned that investing is not constant. There are a lot of uncertainties we investors have to navigate through and learn how to protect our investments. Remember, in the short term, the stock price is often irrational. Over the long term, fundamentals will always win.

As a dividend investor, one of my biggest takeaways is this – don’t be greedy, always follow your investment thesis and rules. 

I don’t claim to be the perfect investor and I will never be one. There’s no such thing in life as perfect. Imperfection is what makes us human. 

One of the reasons I started this blog is to chronicle our financial independence journey. I use this blog as a way to share things that we’ve learned along the journey. It’s totally OK to share our failures and mistakes with my readers. We can only become better people and investors by learning from these failures and mistakes.

Don’t only brag about the good investments you made and ignore the bad ones.

Share your mistakes and failures so we can all learn together. 

Be humble and be willing to learn. 

Happy investing! 

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12 thoughts on “Learning and Accepting Failures”

  1. Your university story reminds me of one of mine 🙂

    I had an exam at U of T in my fourth year for a stats course where everything during the term was very practical and number crunching. We could bring a cheat sheet 8.5 X 11 page with formulas so I wrote incredibly tiny and practically replicated every formula in the book. The exam ended up being fully theoretical with how to apply the formulas and almost no actual number crunching. I remember reading it and drawing a complete blank. After reading the exam a few times, with everyone frantically writing, I was thinking “I’m screwed”. Anyways I took a bunch of deep breaths and started writing. I left the exam room, went to the washroom, and threw up. I didn’t want to know how I did and avoided the Prof in the halls after that. My best friend said I should go see the prof because he had been asking about me. I was dreading it. I finally went to his office.

    He asked me how I was doing, and I said not so great. I didn’t feel good about the exam. He laughed and told me I got the highest grade on it. I couldn’t believe it. Then he asked what I was going to do when I graduated and I said I had to get some kind of job to pay back my student loans (they felt big to me at the time, but in the scheme of things I paid them off quickly). He said I could get into a grad program, the tuition would be paid based on my grades, and he would hire me as a TA. I was so grateful, applied and got in. A free Masters Degree.

    Anyhow, those of us who are hard workers, nose to the grindstone, Type A personalities often doubt ourselves. I would add the lesson “Have faith in your abilities” even if you sometimes do make mistakes.

    • I hah a few of those tests where you could bring in a cheat sheet. Usually the cheat sheet didn’t help at all. Also had a few open book tests too… those sucked. 🙂

  2. As always your blog is a wonderful read! Thank you for sharing some of your failures.
    I think that the pressures for university going student in Canada is too much. Imagine doing 7/8/9 courses. That is too much. And having nightmares for years afterwards, is a sign that the university is putting unnecessary pressure on students.
    Learning from our failures is the way to go.

  3. Always like your weekly articles about living life with finances in mind.
    Like the pro golfer, Gary Player comment, “The more I practrice the luckier I get”. Most high achievers have learnt many hard lessons, but the key is learning from them.
    I agree with all your learnings, here are my additional tips.
    -Invest in your personal health, this is your main asset.
    -Work with your partner and create the goals to achieve
    -TFSA’s is a real deal, fill your boots yearly.
    -Financial advisors are filling thier pockets first so they can’t be relied on.
    -Look at the top ten companies in the main large mutual funds, start by buying those companies and read about investing and never, never ever buy a mutual fund.
    -Stick to your main goal buy quality companies and be confident that the turtle wins, dont focus on large home runs, they come naturally later.
    I hit my target goal at age 42, retired at 55 and taxes are my number one problem. I pay more taxes than I ever earned. Create an exit (retirement) strategy but look at total tax consequences while accumulating wealth. RRSP’s has created a real trap on how to get that money out efficiently. Baby boomers had few other options to shelter money but having a side company has many benefits.

  4. Excellent read. I cringed, reading about the high speed wires, imagining myself in your shoes! And let’s not talk about the math exam!!!

  5. That was a very good read. Good for u and all your success investing and telling your story.

    I bought my first Apple Computer and printer in NH, USA about 35 yrs ago. Bought my first Apple and Microsoft shares… for about $26 / $30. bucks. It seemed complicated at the time with simple programs. ( I had started a small business .. monthly rag called Real Estate By Owner. It became quite successful). I still have the account with Schwab, moved back to Canada,
    dripped/ share appreciated, it all those yrs…. until just recently, seven figures$. I’m 75 now.
    ( u never forget/ regret what a specific $$, move in the past did …..to make u grin later on)
    I sometimes tell youngins, but they mostly glaze over!!


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