Rock Climbing

Something happened last semester that will probably have a permanent impact on my self-esteem.

It was in cold January that I enrolled in a compulsory course on information security in which we had to split into small groups of three to four members, and develop a security system.

These projects are usually quite demanding, since you have to do a great deal of research on your topic, figure out how to put that theory into practice and create a functioning system, and document every step from the project plan to implementation.

This means that every group member has to play an integral role throughout the project. If one person tries to sneak away and let the others do the work, his name gets crossed out pretty fast. Free rides are never permitted.

It just happens that our team wasn’t performing too well. We were contacting each other via email but at one point one of our three members suddenly went M.I.A. She stopped responding to our emails. She no longer appeared in class. She just vanished. A couple of weeks went by, and she finally wrote back to us saying that she has been sick. Well, okay, that makes sense. And although she probably could’ve sent a short message just to let us know that she can’t work on the project for a while, we thought that being sick was a valid enough reason for her to be away. No hard feelings.

Being some three weeks behind schedule, we finally decided to do our project on the security of WLAN networks, and create a comprehensive set of security measures for the university’s wireless networks. Even though we were running behind other groups, we felt much better now that we were finally making progress.

The other member (who had been active the whole time) and I wrote the first draft of the project plan and sent it to the third group member, and asked if she could review it, add her stuff, and send it back to us. But it never came back. We had vanished again. The two of us still tried to keep the project alive despite the group’s having a missing member. But then, after a week or so, I received an email from my partner saying that she, too, was going to ditch the project and try again next semester because she didn’t think that we could get a good grade for “half-assed” work. That was shocking news. That course on information security was one of the very last remaining courses for me, so there was no way I was going to repeat the same crap all over again in September. What’s more, I would also have to take two exams—one of which I had already passed.

I was really upset at the time, because it meant that I would have to do an extra semester just because one group member had stubbornly decided to jump ship all of a sudden—and for ridiculous reasons. We had already lost one member but it didn’t mean that we wouldn’t be able to finish the work properly.

So finally I decided that I would try to finish it alone. I emailed the teacher and told him what had happened to our group, and asked if I could do the project on my own. Of course, I mentioned that I wouldn’t be able to make it as thorough as we could with a full project group, but I’d nevertheless try my best. My request was accepted, so I started working on it. At least I didn’t have to rely on lazy members this time around. 🙂

The individual work finally paid off, as I got full marks for the project (although I’m sure the teacher showed great generosity when evaluating my project), and fortunately didn’t have to repeat the course.

All this may sound like I’m just bragging about my small accomplishment, but that’s not why I shared the story. I wanted to share it because it was a big eye-opener for me, and I’m hoping that you can also draw some encouragement from it. I almost gave up when I realized the group had disbanded, but the fact that I tried to fix things by asking the teacher for an alternate way to complete the project allowed me to reach the goal, which, at one point, felt impossible to arrive at.

This is why I encourage you not to give up hope easily. You’ll automatically fail if you don’t try. The group member who quit was actually one of the top students in my year—with much better grades than what I had, which is probably part of the reason as to why I felt so good about the accomplishment.

Have trust in yourself and be willing to face challenges, because that’s the best weapon for battling against failure. Never accept failure just because you see other people quitting.