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Little Failure, the title of satiric novelist and SSSQ alum Gary Shteyngart’s new memoir, is meant to describe Gary himself, a little failure according to his mother. The title could also describe our school through Gary’s eyes.
From an interview in Fast Company (9/17/12):
The first time Brené Brown read Theodore Roosevelt‘s exhortation that it is not the critic who counts, but rather “the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood,” and that “if he fails, he at least fails while daring greatly,” the author knew that what the pugilistic president was talking about back in 1910 was what she researches today: vulnerability.
And so those last two words are the title of her newest book, Daring Greatly, from publisher Gotham. Fast Company talked with Brown about why vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, how engagement got to be uncool, and why perfectionism is the enemy of getting work done.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes:
Joseph had in double measure one of the necessary gifts of a leader: the ability to keep going despite opposition, envy, false accusation and repeated setbacks.
Setbacks too are part of the life-story of the most successful. J. K. Rowling’s initial Harry Potter novel was rejected by the first twelve publishers she sent it to. Another writer of a book about children suffered twenty-one rejections. The book was called “Lord of the Flies,” and its author, William Golding, was eventually awarded the Nobel Prize for literature.
In his famous commencement address at Stanford University the late Steve Jobs told the story of the three blows of fate that shaped his life: dropping out of university, being fired from Apple, the company he founded, and being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Rather than being defeated by them, he turned them all to creative use.
For twenty-two years I lived close to Abbey Road, North London, where a famous pop group recorded all their hits. At their first audition, they performed for a record company who told them that guitar bands were “on their way out.” The verdict on their performance (in January 1962) was: “The Beatles have no future in show business.”
All this explains Winston Churchill’s great remark that “success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.”
“To all those people who declared our experiment a failure, you have to understand how innovation works,” Thrun wrote on his blog. “Few ideas work on the first try. Iteration is key to innovation. We are seeing significant improvement in learning outcomes and student engagement. ”
One of the hardest things for me, as a mom, is knowing that I have to turn my children over to the world. I don’t want to sometimes. There are days I would prefer to keep them tucked safely under my wings, with blankets, books and comfort food.
But of course, that’s not my job.
My job is to work myself out of a job. To teach my kids not to need me. And as much as that doesn’t sound fun, I know it’s the best thing I can do for them.
My son started second grade this year, as a happy, eager-to-learn 7-year-old. But within the first week, he’d encountered a bully, the experience of being too small (and a little too uncoordinated) to play sports with some of his friends, and kids wanting to copy his work because he’s the smartest in the class.
That’s a lot for one child to take in a week.
He came home dejected, sad and quiet. Quite different from the boy I had sent off to school a few days earlier. He would cry easily, and he seemed so upset and tired.
My instinct was so swoop in, make him feel better, and make it all go away. But again, not my job.
I constantly checked in with myself, asking what can I teach him, what can we both learn from this and how to make sure he feels loved and supported as I keep sending him back into the world each day where he will have to deal with this on his own.
Of course I listened, asked him questions, checked with the teacher to see what his 7-year-old eyes may have missed and even spoke with the principal to make sure I had the full story. Unfortunately, I did.
I happen to believe there are few accidents in life, and this story is no exception. The week that school started, a friend suggest that I read How Children Succeed by Paul Tough. Honestly, I suggest this book for every parent, and well, non-parent. It’s much more about human nature and the skills we’ll need to truly succeed than it is just about children.
The book discusses, in great detail, the importance of teaching our children grit, self-control, zest (awesome word, right?), social intelligence, gratitude, optimism and curiosity.
And here I was, faced with an opportunity to do just that with my son. This wasn’t a problem that was going to fix itself, this wasn’t something I could wish away. This was life, coming directly at my child. I felt it was my responsibility to teach him how to navigate through it, not to fix it for him. That would rob him of the opportunity to learn these skills.