In Their Own Words: Facing the Fear of Failure In Order to Fly

As she graduates this spring, psychology major Erika Carreon ‘23GS reflects on how she overcame external and internal obstacles to prove her extraordinary potential to her harshest critic: herself.

April 22, 2023

My life has been a series of challenges and triumphs, each one shaping me into the person I am today. Growing up in an abusive home was not easy, but it taught me to be resilient and independent from a young age. I had to take care of myself, often choosing between putting a roof over my head and pursuing an education. Despite these obstacles, I persevered and found success in the workplace at a young age.

At 21, I found myself managing a large team and excelling in my career. However, my passion for fashion led me to pursue a job at Ralph Lauren in New York. Working there for seven years, I was mentored by managers who encouraged me to explore my intellectual interests. Meanwhile, I discovered a love for psychology, people, and what makes relationships flourish, so I decided to finish my college education at Columbia University.

My proudest moment at Columbia was not just making it onto the Dean's list for a few semesters, but overcoming my deep-seated fear of failure. You see, I had always believed that a girl like me could never make it to a school like Columbia. I struggled with balancing school and work during my first attempt at college, and my confidence took a severe blow.

However, I refused to let my past mistakes define me, and I summoned the courage to apply to Columbia. I still remember the overwhelming feeling of fear and uncertainty as I submitted my application. The months of waiting for a response were agonizing, but when I received the acceptance letter, it was like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders.

My journey at Columbia was not without its challenges, but I was determined to overcome them. I immersed myself in my studies, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was excelling academically. It was a feeling of accomplishment that I had never experienced before. At Columbia, I was inspired by professors and students alike, and I was able to pursue my passion for human rights. I took on the role of teaching assistant for a course dedicated to challenging our ideas of justice in America. I also mentored and tutored adults in the Harlem neighborhood who were at a crossroads, trying to decide whether to go back to college or not.

Making it onto the Dean's list for a few semesters was just the icing on the cake. It was validation that my hard work and perseverance had paid off. More importantly, it was proof that I could achieve anything I set my mind to, despite my fears and doubts.

Now, after completing my studies at Columbia, I am embarking on a new adventure. I am moving to Chicago to pursue my master's degree in marriage and family therapy at Northwestern University. My goal is to help individuals and families overcome their own challenges, just as I have overcome mine. I hope to help people create meaningful lives with fulfilling relationships. 

My experience at Columbia taught me that we are often our worst critics. It also taught me that we can overcome our fears and achieve greatness if we have the courage to try. I am proud of myself for having the courage to apply to Columbia, and for overcoming my fear of failure. It is a lesson that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

Erika Carreon is a member of the 2023 graduating class of GS. In Their Own Words highlights Columbia GS students' unique voices, perspectives, and experiences during their time at Columbia and beyond.