Failure IS an option — 6 years in a five-minute essay

Calvin Tran
5 min readMay 20, 2021
Hi, I’m Calvin!

How do you sum up 6 years of joy, pain, sweat, tears, highs, lows, and anxiety in a few hundred words? Well, here I try to do so. Community college didn’t start so hot with me failing calculus I. It wasn’t my proudest moment since I had just taken AP calculus and gotten a 2 on the test, yet I was determined. Then I failed calculus II for a second time. This hurt a lot and hurt my self-esteem, but third times the charm, right? Wrong. It took me a fourth try at a whole different community college to get right where I wanted to be: the school that I had passed on to go to community college.

Any rational person would just quit and say engineering is not for them, but not me. The options were: bear the embarrassment and take the class at another community college or quit, regret it for the rest of your life and pick something else.

“Failure is not an option”

— Not a real thing Gene Kranz actually said during Apollo 13

Approximating yourself

Why did it take me 4 tries? I won’t say it was the professor, my part-time job, or what was going on in my life(although dismissing them wouldn’t be entirely honest). It was mainly a lack of time management, discipline, and effective studying skills. Did I nail those skills after those classes? HELL NO. Learning in school is linear: you take one class that is the prerequisite for another class and you move on until you don’t have any more classes to take.

Learning skills like how you study and how to manage time is trial and error over and over and over. I won’t say I’m a perfect student now however I definitely know my limits better than ever. And once you know those limits you can do anything.

No, you’ll still need a parachute when jumping a thousand feet down nonetheless, you will have a better understanding of yourself which is a good start. However, to understand yourself you need to fail and learn from those mistakes. Me writing it in bold text and italics doesn’t make it easy for anyone to actually do it. I mean it did take me 4 tries at calculus II to pass it still, iteration by iteration, step by step, by failing you will learn about your limits. When to pass on going out for boba (even though you went out 3 times that week already) and how you learn best.

I learn best by going to lectures paying attention (sorta) and using a mix of HW and actually reading the textbook to do well. Yeah, I said it I read the textbook. This was the most difficult study skill I learned and while it’s not always helpful, it definitely contains information. Whether it’s useful or not depends on a lot of variables but information is information. Information is impartial, it can grant you an A on that dynamics exam or move you to the next step of that interview process. Fail and try, try, try again until it works.

Perseverance on Earth

A second lesson I learned throughout this experience is how to persevere. We all should know a lot about that now given the pandemic is now coming to a close. Even so, the sheer stupidity(?) and determination(?) for me to take calculus again after failing, again and again, has taken me pretty far in life.

My 2020 Summer Internship Hunt

This doesn’t look good at all, does it? But this isn’t meant to discourage you. A 2.8 GPA community college to state school student like me landed a dreamy internship at Emergent Space Technologies where I worked on a telemetry processing software in C++. I don’t have amazing extracurriculars, research, or connections but in the face of overwhelming rejections (pretty much multiple daily), I persevered and landed one.

I was definitely feeling the pressure when iteration after iteration after iteration of my resume got rejected or I got ghosted on after a first interview. After the first interview with Emergent, I thought it would go nowhere. Despite having zero previous internship experience, my passion for space, engineering, and learning lit the path to an internship offer. With my foot in that door, I definitely jammed it as hard as I could until I could fully open the door.

That door leads me to today, where I am going to graduate in 2 weeks with a bachelor’s degree in Aerospace Engineering with an emphasis in astronautics. I’ve also landed a full-time job at Momentus Space where I will be a Spacecraft Operations Engineer. There is definitely a ton more to this story but the point was already said.

Anyone can be an engineer.

For everyone I know, it takes a different amount of effort but I really believe that it’s possible. I mean I’m not so good at math and yet here I am. That’s the point of all this. I believe in you if you’re reading this and need to be believed in. Remember:

There is no tomorrow, dreams and wishes are things that cannot wait. Act on them right now. It is cowardice not to try something because you fear you might fail. Failure is not the end — it is the beginning.

End — The Sentimental part

I would also like to thank Emergent Space Technologies and Timothy Esposito for taking a chance on me and giving me an amazing internship experience. Despite it was entirely virtual, it granted me a wealth of knowledge that I will continue to apply to my career and life.

College is definitely what you make of it and CSULB does not hold your hand. However, thanks to the professors, clubs, and classmates I will work my dream job. A specific thank you to Professor Hongzhao Liu or Joe, who teaches MAE 453. He is an amazing professor that cares about his students and topic very deeply and I am thankful for his guidance.

I’d like to thank every single one of my friends and specifically those in what we call ✨UwU 2.0✨. While it’s easy to make friends, its harder to keep friends and I have never been more thankful for your guidance and support throughout this experience.

How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard

-A.A. Milne

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Calvin Tran

A soon to be Spacecraft Operations Engineer, space and outoor exploration enthusist.