Create a Successful & Sane College Experience With Your 5-Step Action Plan (Part 3)

For: college freshmen, or any college student who is looking to create success, build resilience, manage college stress and infuse their life with personal leadership development principles.

Last week we covered Part 2 on resisting the temptation to “do it all” in our 5-part September series on how to Create a Successful & Sane College Experience. Moving on to tip #3:

“Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.”
-Oscar Wilde

Have you ever been afraid to step far outside your comfort zone to try something new for fear of not excelling at it right away? Do you want to become fearless by taking smart risks to build the life and leadership vision of your dreams, beginning in college? Do you want to create a successful and sane college experience?

It all starts with the practice of growing comfortable with one word: failure.

I know, scary word huh? That word scares me too. But here’s the thing…

I don’t mean start failing all your classes and then brag about how courageous you are when you’re on academic probation. In our culture, we see messages every day that tell us if we’re not number one, then we’ve failed. Sometimes we become afraid to try something new because if we’re not awesome at it right from the start, then we think we’re failing.

In college, students can become afraid to take a class that they’re not confident they can ace because they don’t want their GPA to suffer. Getting a B or a C on a quiz is seen as the ultimate failure. In high school, did you ever receive the message—either directly or indirectly—that everything you do counts for college? Did you ever receive the message that you must be the perfect student in order to be successful in life? If so, that perfectionist mentality could follow you to college. You could deduct that everything you do in college will make or break your potential to be successful once you graduate. That fear alone could paralyze you from taking smart risks as you begin your college experience.

This is what I wish some one had told me when I was beginning my college experience: Even though your grades matter, something else matters much more. Something else is far more important than your GPA in determining your potential to be successful once you graduate. That’s your resilience. A 2010 Accenture study titled “Women Leaders and Resilience” found that resilience is not only a leadership advantage in the 21 century; it is also a distinguishing trait that makes you marketable in a competitive workforce.

Our ability to bounce back from failure directly determines our potential for success. But beyond just bouncing back from failure, it’s also our ability to try new things despite our fear of failure that determines our potential for success. We can grow comfortable facing fear when we begin to see challenges as opportunities to practice becoming more resilient.

So … what about you?
Is there something new that you’d like to try this semester? Would you like to take a class that sounds exciting and scary at the same time? Would you like to run for a student government position? Apply for an internship? Join a new club? Start a new club? Declare a college major in a STEM field or something that’s completely outside your comfort zone? Or how about applying for a new job, attending a networking event, or joining a professional association? Is fear of the unknown holding you back? Are you afraid you might make mistakes? Are you afraid you might fail?

If you are, you’re not alone. I can relate. I too am stepping out beyond my comfort zone to try something new.

My story…
The Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching just accepted me into their 10-month coach training program. I’ll be working toward becoming a certified professional life coach. My short-term goal is to create one-on-one coaching programs for you, our Campus Calm network, beginning in 2013. I’m so excited but I’m also scared. Whenever I find myself in unfamiliar territory, some of my perfectionist fears creep back up and I have to talk myself through them. While I’m confident in my abilities, I do have self-doubt as well. I’m afraid that I won’t master the hands-on learning quick enough for my confidence to build. I’m afraid the anxiety I experienced as a senior in college could resurface (which could become a self-fulfilling prophecy if I let it!). I’m afraid that someone will find out that I’m not good enough to be a professional coach. I’m afraid that I will find out that I’m not good enough…

Here’s the thing: I recognize that that’s my fear voice, my inner critic the relentless perfectionist. She’s not real. She is a voice from within that’s irrational, damning, soaked in unrealistic expectations. She talks smack to me every single day. So I dish it right back to her. I challenge myself to challenge her. I remind myself of all the times in my life that I successfully faced a new challenge. I remember all the moments of fear, and how I took action despite it. I recall all the times I thought I couldn’t do something new, and how I always proved myself wrong in the end. I tell myself that if I did it before, I can do it again. Most importantly, I remind myself that human perfection doesn’t exist, no one is perfect, and so I don’t have to be perfect to try something new. Every time I practice challenging my inner critic so I can act in the face of my fear, my resilience strengthens. Knowing that I have what it takes to step outside my comfort zone and succeed imperfectly has made me a more confident risk-taker.

Do you want to take a chance on yourself?
Would you like to build resilience and become a more confident risk-taker in college? Do you have that critical voice inside you too? If you do, let’s make a deal. Let’s be vulnerable and face our fears, together. Can you commit to trying one new thing this semester that inspires you to step outside your comfort zone? We can be each other’s support network! Together, let’s celebrate every small achievement we make as we journey down a new path. Let’s talk openly about our setbacks and challenges. When we talk about them, we remove the shame and the fear subsides. Let’s flex our collective resilience. Let’s help each other trust that we will successfully navigate new challenges with patience, practice and positive attitudes. Let’s accept that if we don’t perfectly master something new from the start, that it’s not only ok, it’s perfect that way. 😉

Leave me comments below and let me know what new thing you’d like to try this semester despite your fear of failing. Give me the honor of supporting you!


  • understand that it takes courage to make a mistake, learn from it and keep going;
  • realize that for every time you’re successful in life you had to explore and “fail” somewhere along the line to get there;
  • develop a sense of identity that’s separate from your achievements and your failures. If your whole self-worth isn’t dependent on your performance in life, it will be far less scary to try new things. Check out page 103 in my book Campus Calm University to help you begin to develop a healthy sense of self that is separate from your achievements.


  • settle into your comfort zone. When you’re too comfortable in your routine, it usually means you’re not taking any chances. That doesn’t mean push yourself to the breaking point though because you’re never going to reach innovation when you’re being hard on yourself. I just mean take some chances on things that could bring you joy;
  • back away from a challenge to take an easier but less personally rewarding path—in school or in life.

*Next week we’ll delve into Part 4 of our 5-part September-October series on how to Create a Successful & Sane College Experience. Sneak Peak: Are you tired? Stressed out? Cranky? Have you become so busy with schoolwork and extracurricular activities that you’ve forgotten how to relax? Or worse, do you feel guilty every time you do take five minutes to relax, which further stress you out and defeats the purpose of relaxing in the first place? Do you want to stop the insanity because your overscheduled, slightly sleep-deprived self deserves it?! See you next time!

-Maria Pascucci
Founder & President, Campus Calm™
Click here to learn more about “Stepping Through the Doorway of Fear”, Maria’s brand new motivational keynote presentation for college students and young professionals.

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