Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new. Albert Einstein
About 6 years ago I began pursuing my passion for creating art again. My love affair with art began when I was in sixth grade. The school I attended required every sixth grade student to take an art class. Our teacher was Mr. Gianforte, who was better known as Mr. G. With his instruction and inspiration, I discovered that I could actually draw and I enjoyed it! I wasn’t born with some amazing artist ability. My childhood drawings were like the typical kid. In fact, I didn’t think I could draw at all.
For me, art has always been very personal. I limited my artistic expression to sketches in my journal, which of course, were never good enough. I didn’t share my drawings with others because they never met the standard of excellence that I expected of myself.
Yet, I continued to draw simply for pleasure off and on through the years. I never even considered that someone else might actually enjoy my creative expressions, until one day I felt compelled to join my church’s art team. It was something I knew I had to do.
But I was terrified.
I wasn’t a professional. I didn’t have an art degree. I felt vastly underqualified. I hadn’t displayed any kind of art since my collegiate days. I didn’t know if I could endure artistic criticism. I was just too fragile. Art was so personal to me. It was like bearing my soul to others and hoping that they would accept me. I didn’t know if I could take the rejection.
And yet, I was compelled to produce and display my art in spite of my fears. I’m so thankful that I did.
I played it safe and produced some black and white sketches. Afterward, I began to cautiously venture out of my comfort zone.
And I experienced failure.
Most of those pieces were horrible. I still have several of them. And yet, it was the best that I could do at the time. It was all apart of the process of learning, and growing. I’m thankful that I was given the opportunity to display the best of what I could give at the time. I had a wonderful mentor that kept giving me feedback, and pressing me to grow as an artist. Her investment has been invaluable to me. Don’t get me wrong, it was a difficult process. Often, her words stung, and yet I knew that her intentions were to see me grow as an artist.
No success comes without many, many failures.
Think about it. Has any toddler ever learned to walk perfectly on the first attempt? It takes much failure in their attempts to walk before they become successful walkers. Every wobble, fall, and unsuccessful attempt, gets them much closer to their goal. They learn much in the process. Their bodies become stronger, and more balanced. Until one day, they are running!
As I’ve worked with students, I’ve observed a pattern of students having an expectation that they aren’t supposed to make mistakes. So often when students fail, it’s as if the world has come to a crashing end!
Here are a few reasons I believe children have an incorrect understanding of failure:
- Parents shield them from failure.
So often parents are in rescue mode. I’ve done this myself. Instead of allowing our children to make messes, break things, or take much longer than necessary to complete a task, we do it ourselves. As a result, our children are seldom allowed to experiment, learn and grow in the everyday occurrences of life. I’ll admit, it’s not convenient to allow your children to try something, fail and then have to go behind them to fix or clean their messups. Parents also shield their children because they hate seeing their children experience disappointment. In the name of self-esteem, parents have rushed into every difficulty, trying to fix things so that our children always feel great about themselves. Eventually our children will have to experience the harsh realities of failure, and disappointment. Do we really want that first time to be when they leave home? We have the opportunity while they are young to teach them how to react to failure and disappointment.
- Educators, coaches and other adults promote the idea that our goal in life is “perfection” or excellence
And perfection means, no failure, right? How many times have you heard a coach, or teacher say, “practice makes perfect.” Really? Prove it. As far as I know, the only perfect person that ever lived was Jesus. The truth is, no matter how long and hard we practice anything, we’ll never be perfect. Unfortunately, the goal of most educators is the achievement high test scores. No longer are assessments used to help find areas of weakness, they are used to measure a school’s success. We seem to have the mistakened idea that if a students scores well on a test, they are learning. So excellence means high test scores. Mistakes and failure become something to be avoided.
This kind of environment shuns creativity and exploration. It also creates an environment where children are afraid of taking risks. They’re afraid of asking a “dumb” question, or of taking the risk of raising their hand and getting the answer wrong. We as educators need to create an environment which embraces failure and mistakes as a natural part of the learning process. You can read more here about the role of failure in the class room.
- We’re conditioned to celebrate successes and shun failure.
Think about it. When anyone experiences success, everyone celebrates. Our hard work paid off. We feel great about ourselves. We feel competent, smart, strong, fast, etc. We give trophies to the smartest, the fastest, the best and the brightest. But what about those who work hard, and aren’t the best. Where are the accolades for those students? Only first place wins. Even second place is a loss.
As a mother and a teacher, I’m always checking my reaction to my students’ failures. I want them to know that failure is a normal part of the learning process. They should expect failure and begin using failure as an opportunity to learn.
We learn more from failures than we do from successes.
When we fail, we’re forced to look at where we went wrong. We analyze, regroup, and we’re even willing to take advice from others. We become teachable when we fail. So teachers should love to see their students fail. That is when they’re most receptive to instruction.
Failure always precedes success.
After another failed attempt while trying to invent the light bulb, Thomas Edison said , “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Though Edison is remembered for his successes, his life was full of lots of failures. Failed inventions. Failed businesses. And yet, he is known as the as having more patented inventions than anyone else. He took lots of risks, and that meant he experienced lots of failure.
The only way you can get ahead is to fail early, fail often, and fail forward. from Fail Forward by John Maxwell
Our reaction to failure, determines how much we benefit from our failure.
It’s ok to be disappointed and to mourn our failure, initially. But let’s not stay there long. We should be determined to squeeze every nugget of wisdom that we can from our failures. Then take what we’ve learned and move forward with it. Many of my students respond to past failure by avoiding hard tasks, becoming whiny when faced with a challenge, being an extreme perfectionist, or giving little to no effort. This is how they avoid the disappointment of failure. Instead, I encourage them to be resilient and determined. Keep trying. Don’t give up.
Every failure is worth the lessons you will learn along the way.
We learn much about our strengths and weaknesses. We learn much about what we really believe, not just what we say we believe. We learn much about people and relationships. We know one more thing that doesn’t work. We learn much about life– if we choose to pay attention to the lessons that present themselves.
Failing doesn’t make you a failure.
Failing doesn’t make us a bad person or a less valuable person. It just means we failed. On the flip side, succeeding doesn’t make you a good person, or a more valuable person. We all have intrinsic value and worth given to us by our Creator. This isn’t something we have to earn.
As educators, let us encourage our students every step along the journey to success. Every wrong answer, missed shot, or mistake our students make, become fertile ground for the best life lessons to take place.