"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."
Has this ever happened to you? So, you are driving in your car and have your GPS set for the destination and you miss a turn. The GPS says, "recalculating", but you decide, "forget it, I missed the turn I can't get there. I am going home". You return to your home safe in the knowledge that you never would have gotten there anyway. Or, you begin to think, this GPS is broken, it doesn't work. You begin to rationalize that you really didn't want to go there. It wouldn't have been fun or informative, or lifesaving. Nope home is safe.
No....this isn't how it happens? the GPS says, "recalculating", and then gives you an alternate route to get back on track? You make it to your destination? Mission accomplished? You have fun? You learn something new? You receive just what the doctor ordered?
But wait a minute...... YOU FAILED at following directions? Therefore, YOU FAILED, right? Wrong! You haven't failed, you have just learned how not to do something. You persevered, you didn't give up, you learned! You've succeeded in achieving your goal (and you probably know what landmarks to look for now when you drive to this place again)! CONGRATULATIONS!! You haven't failed, you have grown! Life will not judge you on how many times you have succeeded vs. the number of times you have failed. Ask Thomas Edison, who invented the incandescent light bulb, on his 1,000th try! As a matter of fact, you may be the only person who knows how many time you failed, tried again, failed, tried again and finally succeeded. You will, however, be judged by your growth. Everyone has successes and failures in their personal and professional life. I have found that as long as you learn from your mistakes and grow, mistakes will be forgotten.
Recently while reading an on-line article in the Harvard Business Journal, entitled, "Why You Need to Fail", by Peter Bergman, the author relays a story about working out in the gym. At the end of the workout his trainer calls him over and mimics his lackadaisical lifting style and chastises him for the lack of effort. His technique is perfect, his reps are right, the amount of weight was wrong! What the trainer said to him was, "A muscle only grows if you work it until it fails". Thus, failure is an opportunity for growth. It's anatomically proven! Therefore, we must change our mindset to include failure as a logical part of growth and ultimately success. Carol Dweck calls this a growth mindset.
Consider the following chart:
According to Dweck, we must cultivate a Growth Mindset over a Fixed Mindset. There isn't anything you can't learn. You may not learn it the first time or the second time, but you will learn it. In today's day and age, you merely need to turn on a computer and you can learn to do anything. There is a lot of merit to that old saying our parents tell us, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again". I, myself, learned to change the damper door assembly in my refrigerator by watching a YouTube video. I changed out an air conditioner motor by reading a blog. It wasn't easy, took me way too long, and I made mistakes along the way.....but I did it!
So, as parents, we can help our children by helping them understand that failure is a part of life and it is only bad if we do not learn from it and grow!! In my years as a high school principal, I have had countless conversations with students, teachers and parents on who's fault it was that the student failed a test. My reply is the same, "quit trying to fix the blame, fix the problem".
A teacher may say, "He doesn't put the time and effort into studying". But the bigger issue may be that the student doesn't know how to study. We may take it for granted that everyone knows how to study. The reality is there are content specific study strategies. We want to be mindful. If kids are to independently demonstrate their knowledge and ability in a particular area, they must know how to independently study!!
A parent may say, "That teacher doesn't teach the material". I am confident that the what is being taught is right. The state is pretty prescriptive when it comes to what needs to be taught. It may be how it is being taught for that particular child that is wrong. Conversations that focus on how the child learns best and how both the home and school can support this is very important. Sometimes, it is the gift of time that is necessary. Some students need more time, repetition, or manipulation of skill or content. With dialogue time can be carved out for this. Failure can become growth
I have also heard, "She is bad at math, I am bad at math. It runs in the family". Bad connotes failure and as I stated above, it also means and opportunity for growth. I tell the following story to the kids when the opportunity presents itself. When I was in 9th grade, I was told that the only way I would pass math was to come in for help 7 days a week. Now, even at 14 years old, I knew that was impossible. I ended up dropping math that year. I took it the following year with another math teacher, John Reefe. Mr. Reefe saw that I could do it and instilled in me that attitude. I went on to pass the class, pass the regents with a very high score and go on to the next level of math. I did it! We must instill a "you can do anything you put your mind to" attitude in our kids. If we believe in them (educators and parents), then they will believe in themselves.
A student may say, "That teacher doesn't like me. That's why I am doing bad in the class". I ask, "Do you do your homework? Do you try your hardest? Do you have a "can do attitude?" Many times children think that the teachers like the kids who get it right and don't like the ones that get it wrong. That is because failing has been ingrained in these kids as a bad thing. Remember failing is just figuring out a way not to do something and is a natural part of growth! I tell the kids, "give your teacher something to like. Show them that you will never quit". I then guarantee that their perception of the teacher will change, not because the teacher has changed, but because his/her attitude has changed.
It is time to recognize failure as a natural part of life. When it is coupled with persistence, perseverance, and resilience, it becomes a personal and professional positive.