This week, I share the story of someone who failed 11th grade math and as a consequence was going to fail to advance to 12th grade. She was given one week to retake the test. She not only passed but proceeded to achieve honors when she graduated from the 12th grade.Â She has maintained her academic excellence throughout college and just a few weeks ago, she was notified that she achieved the 2nd highest score in her college at the highly acclaimed Jai Hind College.
Her name is Srishti Arya and this is her story of going from fail to honors in Mumbai, India.
Srishti by her own admission was an average student throughout secondary school in Mumbai. She did well enough to advance each year but she did not distinguish herself in any subject. Â Her academic life changed abruptly when she failed her 11th grade standard in Math, which is one of the core subjects every student must pass.Â Shaken by the very real possibility of not advancing to 12th grade, she focused with intensity and determination to pass the re-take exam for which she had only one week to prepare.
Her near brush with humiliating failure and subsequent success on the re-take exam caused a profound shift in Srishtiâ€™s mindset toward academics, particularly toward math. She had been apprehensive toward math and easily got discouraged when in her own words â€śthe sum would come not right awayâ€ť when confronted with a math problem. She believed that she lacked the ability to comprehend math and her disappointments in solving math problems only reinforced that mindset.
But through sheer grit of determination, a prodigious amount of hard-work, spiritual strength, nurturing and encouragement from a patient math tutor, she began to solve the same math problems which had eluded her previously. Her success began to disprove her original fatalistic mindset. In addition, her friends were all top students who regularly attained test scores in the 90% range.Â Srishti thought to herself â€śweâ€™re similar in many waysâ€¦if they can, why canâ€™t I?â€ť Â Furthermore, her parents did not exert pressure on her to do well academically. Instead, they encouraged her to pursue her interests. They provided nurturing and accepting support which freed her to find her own way to grow as a human being.
Srishtiâ€™s story intrigues me because of the profound shift in her academic life trajectory that was provoked by stunning failure. Had she maintained her mediocre academic performance and passed that fateful 11th grade Standard math examination on the first attempt, would she have rocketed to the top of her class in secondary school and in college? Without the emotional shock of failing, would she have taken a hard serious look at her life philosophy and trajectory?
I focus on creativity and innovation for this blog.Â Srishti was creative in an intensely personal way. She created not a valuable new product or service, but rather a new life trajectory for herself based on a serious problem she confronted. This is creative problem-solving taken to the extreme.
How about us? When have we suffered great failures and how have such failures shaken us and provoked us to serious introspection? And how did we respond? Did we execute a â€śSrishtiâ€ť and turn a woeful weakness into a stunning strength and create a new life trajectory? Just as her failure in math provoked her to create a new relationship to academics, could we use our failures to create new relationships with friends, work, family, life?
Could we create a new relationship with our own failures? Rather than tragic realities to dread and forget, could we behold our failures as potential gifts to cherish? Â Could weâ€¦ will we choose to live creatively?
Note: Srishti is a remarkable young woman. In addition to her academic success, she is a social innovator. She and her sister Ritika Arya and close friend Priyam Datta founded the NGO Young Innovators Foundation. I first met Srishti and her sister in 2009 at the international Youth Venture Summit in Boston. They represented their NGO in accepting an award for youth-led social innovation. My son, Javier, and I visited them in Mumbai in 2010 and we stay in touch on a regular basis because we work together to bring creativity and innovation to youth in Mumbai, USA and elsewhere.