Last week; on Wednesday, I took my Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP) exam. Usually, people would just write a blog post and/or tweet or post saying “I took the exam, and I passed, here’s a email from Offensive Security saying I did so”, but I’m not one of those people. I failed my exam and I’m publicly writing this blog post to tell so.

Now, you might ask, “but if you failed the exam, why on earth are you writing this post and wasting both your and my time?”. The reason why I’m writing this article; instead of remaining silent until I pass my exam, is because of my good friend and mentor TJ_Null.

TJ and I spoke on Friday morning after my exam ended. I woke up tired as hell, feeling like utter trash and devastated by my failure. He called me saying “talk to me” and we talked for well over an hour; discussing how my exam was like, what I did for each box, and what went wrong. For the better half of our chat, I talked about failing and my distaste for it.

TJ replied by telling me “failure is a part of your success in life. It is one of the aspects in life that many people are afraid of. Everyone has failed at something and at some point they will fail again. Many successful people in this world have failed but most of them continued forward after their failures.” After mentioning that TJ also shared with me Sean Metcalf (PyroTek3)’s talk from BSidesCharm2018 and told me to watch it.

TJ also told me that I should create a post on Twitter talking about my experience and failure. At first, I was not too keen on it, as it meant that I would have to share failure. I told him that I would watch the video then write the tweet after I submit my report. After submitting my report, I watched the video above and started thinking, “why does no one like talking about their failures publicly; including me?”. So I started writing a thread of tweets discussing this; which is now this post. Before tweeting, I sent a draft of what was a 17 tweet thread to TJ for his intake; after all, he was the one who made me write it and made me do this criticization that I am about to do. Upon reading he wrote (and I quote):

Honestly you should put this into a blog post. I think this is fantastic.

So here I am. Putting what was a 17 tweet thread into a blog post.

Let’s Talk About Certification Posts & Failures

On a daily basis, you see hundreds of people sharing that they passed their certification exams on social media, but people rarely mention that they failed and/or how many times they failed. It’s almost as if talking about your failures and the count of your failures publicly is a taboo topic, but it isn’t. We’re just driven to think that it’s a negative thing.

Don’t believe me? Take two minutes to compare the following search queries on Twitter:

Taking a quick look at the tweets above, hardly anyone mentions that they failed their certification exam. Most people tweeted they passed; sometimes mentioning the count. I’m not saying that sharing your success is not a bad thing, but not many people explain the failures they had to get to their success. It’s as if you’re supposed to succeed with no chance of failing, but in reality, this is far from the truth.

You can’t be expected to succeed in everything you dip your toes in, especially on your first try, yet there are people that have high expectations from you for some reason and the outcome of this mentality just hurts you; the only
person that has to go through the failure. It’s as if they want a baby to do a 100m sprint while the baby can’t even walk yet…

I’m sadly a victim of this mentality, whether it’s because I choose to do consciously or not. I’m a perfectionist with OCD and I get frustrated when things aren’t “perfect” or when I don’t get the outcome I desire from something. It damages me and beats the best out of me. I can’t count the number of times I felt like utter trash and hated myself for failing at something. It made me doubt myself and fueled my imposter syndrome. It was basically pouring gasoline on a fire…

Around ~20 hours into my exam, I realized that I’ll fail. I started to think about what people would think about me; from my friends and family to random people on the internet. Just the thought of mentioning that I failed on an exam made me sick to my stomach. I felt like if I told people that I failed, people would just think of me in a lesser way. When I mentioned these thoughts to TJ, he stepped in and gave his two cents:

If people think lesser of you because you failed at something, screw them! As a person, you know who are there for you and know you. What matter in the end is that you got from point A to point B, with your ups and downs. Now you know what you lack that you never knew you did before. Without figuring those ups and downs, you wouldn’t have figured out what you needed to do to improve in the first place. You have gone through a test that not many people will even take the chance to go through.

“Avoiding” The Failure

You might think that you can avoid your failure by just delaying the exam until you can’t delay it more but if you ask me that’s the worst thing you can do. For example, I’ve been prepping for OSCP since late July. I’ve rooted over 34 Hack The Box (HTB) boxes and 42 boxes in OSCP labs. I spent nearly every day for the past 2.5 months studying for OSCP. I booked my exam 1-1.5 weeks into my OSCP lab time. By the time my lab time ended, I thought I was ready, even my friends thought I was ready. I reviewed my notes, went over all the boxes I solved, created my own cheatsheet, prepared my report and notes beforehand, and made sure that everything was a-okay. I prepared myself for success, never thinking I could fail; because of the prior mentality I mentioned.

I started my exam enthusiastically. I was optimistic and energetic. I felt like I had this in the bag. But then, I felt sick to my stomach when I realized that I was bound to fail. I felt like utter trash once the exam was over. I started to think that I rushed into taking the exam. Maybe I did, maybe I didn’t. But I wouldn’t have known my pros and cons unless I took the exam.

I could’ve delayed the exam until god knows when. Maybe that would’ve changed the outcome. Who knows? Sadly, there’s no way to know if you are ready or not unless you try. You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. I took my shot and I’d like to think I gave it my best shot. Maybe it wasn’t the best shot I could’ve taken. Regardless, what’s happened is in the past now, and I cannot change the outcome. No one can. I can only look forward and plan for the future as well as I can.

What’s Next For Me?

Well, there was a lot of stuff I planned before my failure. I’m now a senior in Mathematics at Istanbul University. I was planning on focusing on some malware analysis as I look for a job, but now I have to revamp my priorities. I’m still determined to get my OSCP. I will spend the next month doing more HTB boxes as well as some of Offensive Security’s new lab environment; Proving Grounds (PG).

Am I upset that I failed? Yes. Have I learned anything from my failure? Yes. Am I going to try harder for my next attempt? Yes.

In the end, what we can do is take notes of our failures, build upon them, share them; so others also learn from your experience, and grow. No one succeeds without first failing.