Renate's story

Renate (22) is a student of Social Policy and Public Health at Utrecht University. She is also a coordinator at Platform Unlimited Studying. As a student, she spent a lot of time working on her CV: "But I would really do that differently now."

What does failure mean to you?

"To me, failure in a sense means that you have not done something right. That can be something very small, but also something very big. In theory, people always say you are allowed to fail, but I have also experienced that there is not always room to fail. The moment things go wrong for once or you make a mistake, there is not always the time and space to fix it, or it costs you a lot of energy."

Do you also feel that you can then talk about it with friends or family?

"That space is generally there. But I just notice that it happens very little. Sometimes there is something you would like to discuss, but then that threshold still feels too high. I don't feel it has normalised yet. Of course, we live in a gigantic performance society. I talk to students every so often who feel they have to boost their CV with all kinds of side jobs."

Looking back on it, it has actually been absurd.

Yes, you often hear 'Do it, looks good on your CV' when people may not have the space or energy for that at all.

"I hear that so often. But quite honestly, I also have a hand in that. For much of my studies, I had two or three jobs at the same time. Looking back on it, it has actually been absurd. I have had very little feeling that I was really able to be a student. I learnt a lot from that, but with the knowledge I have now, I would make a different choice next time. I really did get to know myself, but sometimes to my detriment and that's why I would do things differently now."

Do you think something like the Failure Festival is going to help open the conversation about failure and the performance society more widely?

"It's definitely a first step we need to take together. We need to start doing something against that performance society. I am very much looking forward to being able to start the conversation about failure during the Failure Festival. I notice in myself, for instance, that failure involves a lot of tension, especially afterwards. It would be interesting to learn how to subsequently deal with this tension."

Are there any moments of failure where you felt extra tension?

"During my high school years, I did everything around bèta. I did U-talent, all my electives were focused on extra bèta, so even while orientating for my study choice I was only concerned with bèta courses. Eventually I found out that Physics and Astronomy wasn't for me, but I had completely explored all the science programmes, so I wasn't sure what I wanted to do next. Fortunately, I ended up at Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, where I ended up learning a lot, but it certainly felt like failure in the beginning, because I suddenly didn't know what I wanted. 

Besides, there is quite a bit of pressure for women to do a bèta programme, as there are still fewer female students within that faculty. So it immediately felt like I wasn't doing well as a woman either. I felt that was confirmed when I was asked to do an interview about switching faculties. I was approached for that, but when they found out that I was leaving the science faculty precisely as a woman, they didn't want to speak to me anymore, because they wanted to promote science courses to women. When I asked for clarification to be able to have that conversation and got no more response, my sense of failure was only confirmed more. By being more in place at my new study, I ended up happily completing my bachelor's degree."