It may not be new to others but it was new to me today when I heard it. FAIL. It stands for the future always involves learning. Since the school year is drawing to a close for many this month, I thought I would share some valuable life lessons from my school days.  I am looking forward to hearing from you about yours.

Achievement does not always lead to acceptance.

I was a good student and usually achieved marks at the top of my class.  My parents and I moved to a new school district when I was in grade nine.  I was excited to attend the new school because I had moved closer to family and one of my cousins attended the school.  Academically, I exceled, I was the top student in most subjects among the graduating class.  That should have meant multiple awards for me at the graduation ceremonies.  However, I was a newcomer and the students who had been at the school since kindergarten weren’t getting honours, so the principal decided to give only one subject award to any one student.  To my bitter disappointment, I won the prize for Latin.  The lesson: achievement does not always lead to acceptance.

You can’t always get what you want but (to quote the song) you get what you need.

While my parents were not wealthy, as an only child I never wanted for much.  So, when my high school German class was planning a trip to Germany, I was confident that my parents would provide their moral and financial support.  I got neither and missed the class trip.  I was disappointed, angry and inconsolable.  The lesson: You can’t always get what you want but you can use that experience to redefine your goals.

It takes hard work to achieve your goals.

As most of you know, I am a chemical engineer by education.  That’s ironic since at high school in my first ever chemistry course, I was failing.  My teacher and I were not communicating.  When I went to him for help, it was clear that he did not believe girls should be in the sciences at all.  He advised me to drop the advanced chemistry course I was taking and take the regular class so I could get through.  Since my intention was to study engineering and win a scholarship, this was not an option for me.  For the record, I stayed the course, worked with a fellow student to get a decent mark in the first course and rose to the top of the class in the second course. My lesson:  It takes hard work to achieve your goals.

Believe in yourself – even when others don’t.

As you might imagine, a girl entering university in 1972 to study engineering was a bit of a freak.  My mother did not want me to pursue engineering.  My friends told me it was too much work.  My fellow students weren’t convinced I was engineering material.  Add to that I failed drafting in my first semester – proof to the naysayers that this profession wasn’t for me. (for the record, excluding that mark, I had achieved a 4.0 grade average) I passed the supplemental exam and went on to complete my degrees with decent grades. Along the way I learned that you must believe in yourself.

Don’t compromise your values.

At university, I was a teaching assistant for one of the Dean of Engineering.  In the lab that I oversaw, there were three foreign students who always worked together and separately from the rest of the class.  When I was marking lab reports, I saw that all three had submitted the exact same report, complete with fictitious results, calculation errors and poor English. The other students reflected true representations of the results they had achieved in the experiments and honest attempts to calculate and rationalize their results relative to theory.  It was with a heavy heart that I took my discovery to the Dean with a recommendation that the students be academically disciplined. One of my core values is integrity and I believed that the engineering profession required it.  The Dean agree, the students were removed from the faculty.  The lesson:  Don’t compromise your values.

Those of my readers who know me well, understand that these early lessons are ones that I carry with me.  I’ve learned a lot more lessons than these along the way as I am sure many of you have.  So, readers:  What were your early life lessons?

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