Failure is like a mentor teaching you to succeed

I showed a video in my music class today (because I kind of fell into this class and can’t, for the life of me, play an instrument) so the class ends up essentially becoming  critical thinking. At the school we are practicing failure with our students and this tied in pretty well with our class meeting material. I went to class intending to teach about the power of music. How it can be more moving, cathartic and therapeutic than the spoken word. My classes never turn out how I expect. What it turned into was a lesson about failure. Whether or not they are allowed to fail when learning something new at home and whether or not it affects their retention. The students that had overbearing parents or were judged harshly for failing didn’t take as many risks at our school to try new things as students that had more freedom to fail. It was illuminating. Another student recognized that he was allowed to fail at school but not home, so after 7 years in our tiny magical school, he has learned a different code: he can fail, and that’s not just ok it’s encouraged and celebrated.

As adults we can be brutally harsh on ourselves. We have high expectations and some hold themselves to a level of perfectionism that I find exhausting. When we try to lose weight, try to keep our New Years resolutions or maybe try to learn a new language we can be so critical about not following through. Or, it takes longer to learn, so we judge how we should have tried when we were younger and it’s just too late. Maybe we take a big leap on something, like start a business, fall in love or write a book…and it fails. That can be heartbreaking. But it’s totally okay. 

When I asked our students at class meeting today, “what does failure mean to you?”, one of them said “failure is like a mentor teaching you how to succeed.”

Wow!! He was 1-trillion percent correct! This 9yr old just schooled me!

There’s this great improv group I occasionally attend where the moderators always open the class with a short speech about how this is simply a place to play, free of judgement. They prefer we fail than get things right, because things can be way funnier when you screw it up. The first time I went I was terribly nervous but was on-point with my one liners. The second time I was much more confident and got a whole lot of tumbleweeds. I wasn’t very funny and it was totally okay. 

–Right here my post, that creativity so inspired me to write, was secretly given to the abyss of the universe, never to be seen again. Soooooooo, hey there failure, let’s dance —

When I was growing up my mom would over-sympathize the smallest things. and make it seem way more intense. I began questioning if I was under-estimating the severity, which would spiral quickly into “I’m worthless, why do I bother”. I believed that I just overanalyzed everything and my reaction was supposed to be victimhood and self-pity. I really didn’t know any better.

“When we know better, we do better.”      ~Maya Angelou

When we learn to fail, we grow. When we judge ourselves less negatively for failing, we grow. But it doesn’t stop there. You MUST deconstruct it. Here’s an outline:

STEP 1. Yup, you screwed that up. It’s okay. Personally, I enjoy making fun of the mistake. It’s a great coping skill. Celebrate and realize this is an opportunity to learn. If you stop with step 1, it sounds like: “I messed that up but that’s because x,y,z. Accept it, that’s who I am”

STEP 2: What happened and why was it a failure? Was it because you didn’t get an outcome you anticipated or another reason? What was your expectation?

STEP 3: Do I need to change my expectation or the strategy I’m using for my desired outcome? Learn from it

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.       ~Albert Einstein

A friend of mine liken’s this process to the scientific method. You form a hypothesis and test it out until you get the desired outcome. It may seem dry and scientific but this particular friend is anything but that. She has taught me that I was never wrong to want to wade through uncomfortable failures while examining the species that survive in the swamps. She has taught me that it can be funny if your layered in moss covered leaches, because “hey look! You’re still alive, even the leeches want to suck your blood!” That’s how failure can feel. You’re not alone and that is simply the messy middle of any story. To get to the endings you have to fail a lot. Allow failure to mentor you, to show you that it’s okay to make mistakes as long as you promise to learn from them. Go fail brilliantly!

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