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Authentic Eagles: Catherine Goldberg On Failure

As Boston College students, it can be tempting to hide our true selves. Embracing our individuality  can help us to understand ourselves and experience the world around us as genuinely as possible. Authentic Eagles is a series that gives a voice to the people who have experienced firsthand the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of being one’s authentic self at BC. We hope that readers are inspired to have conversations and reflections of their own, working toward being more authentic individuals.

Catherine Goldberg, MCAS '16

I have failed at literally everything I’ve tried here at Boston College. I’m not joking, like when your super-smart friend says she “failed,” and she really only got a B. I’ve done worse academically, athletically, and socially during my time at BC than I ever thought I would, and am still failing things, even as a senior.

I went to a high-achieving high school where everyone constantly competed to be the star, whether in the classroom or on the athletic field. I, like every other student at one of these prep schools, did community service on the weekends and ran for school leadership positions. I was well-liked, a strong athlete on the rowing team, and a solid B+ student. I worked for those accomplishments, but not too hard, and when it came to college applications I was sure I would get into my first choice school, the Naval Academy.

Fast forward to September 2012, when I arrived at BC’s campus fresh off a grueling 10-day Navy ROTC indoctrination program. “Indoc,” as we midshipmen called it, basically consisted of early morning workouts, classes on Navy history and regulations (including how best to iron our uniforms), and team building exercises followed by evening workouts. Indoc was the beginning of my failures: I was a slow runner and was consistently overshadowed by my more in-shape peers.

Although I was in Navy ROTC here at BC, I entered my freshman year planning on transferring to the Naval Academy, where I had been waitlisted. I signed up for physics, chemistry, and calculus, and I was also on the women’s rowing team as well as being a midshipman in Navy ROTC. My days would start by watching the sun rise with my teammates on the Charles River, continue with me sleeping in the back of a my 9 a.m. chemistry class, be followed by another workout with the Navy ROTC group, and finish in the library staggering to complete physics and calculus problem sets due the next day that I hadn’t even started. I was miserable, and had completely fallen out of the strong rhythm that I had set for myself during high school.

I came back to spring semester of my freshman year with a probation notice from both the Dean’s Office and the Athletic Compliance Office about my academics. I had gotten terrible grades in my fall classes, and at this point, I knew something had to give from my chaotic life. I ultimately chose to stick with what was making me happier at the time, which was rowing, but with that decision I felt like I had lost my ROTC friends because I was too embarrassed to tell them what had happened. I was disappointed in myself because I had given up on something that I was so passionate about, but I was also relieved to have one less ball to juggle.  

Leaving ROTC didn’t really end my pattern of failures, as I struggled through spring semester with another difficult course load and spring rowing regattas every weekend. During the last few weeks of the semester, I sat outside on the steps of Bapst, crying on the phone with my rowing coach as I tried to explain to her that I couldn’t come to practice because I was too worried about failing my finals. The practices I wanted to miss were the ones leading up to a major regatta; I didn’t think I had a chance of racing in it, but my coach still wouldn’t let me skip. I don’t think she understood just how badly I needed to study, but I’m glad she didn’t, because earning a seat in the boat for that race was one of the highlights of my year.

Coming back to school as a sophomore, I resolved to find within myself those qualities of hard work and perseverance that I had so valued in high school. I switched my major to geology, so, as a Division I athlete, I can say that I successfully fulfill the “rocks for jocks” stereotype; but, I can also say that studying geology has been one of the best decisions I’ve made here. From my failures during freshman year, I learned that I want to pursue only the things that I am most excited about, and for me, that just happens to include rocks. Geology has given me some of the most amazing friends and coolest outdoors experiences, like the six weeks I spent hiking and analyzing rock formations in the mountains of Montana last summer.

Ironically, I had to take physics during my junior year because it is required for my geology major. While I was not excited about taking the course, I realized that I was no longer afraid to fail. I had experienced pretty bad failures already, and as a junior I felt much more prepared to tackle a difficult class while balancing my social life and my role on a Division I sports team. I ended up doing fine in physics class, and it felt pretty great to overcome the obstacle that had set me back so far as a freshman.

In rowing, we talk all the time about how failure is a part of our sport, but one that will make us stronger athletes. I’ve had many practices where I have left upset because I wasn’t put in the boat I thought I deserved to be in, but this has taught me humility and resilience. I can’t say that I love BC all the time, but I’ve finally found a rhythm here. Watching the sunrise over the Eliot Street Bridge with my friends at rowing practice is when I feel happiest. My rowing teammates are some of the most inspiring and understanding people I know, and I am so grateful to have found a core group of friends in them. They are now the ones I turn to when I get a bad grade or don’t hit my goals on the rowing machine at practice. I definitely believe that everything happens for a reason, and even if I could, I wouldn’t change my failures because they’ve influenced the person that I am today.