I read a hilarious resume the other day where the guy who wrote it was applying for a marketing job and listed all the failures he experienced in his years of working as a creative marketer. It’s a funny read but what is more impressive is that he had a high number of responses from employers he submitted it to. It was interesting. It stood out amongst pile of run of the mill resumes trumpeting the feats and accomplishments of applicants who were most likely qualified and most likely bland.
Failure forces us to take notice.
I need my students to surrender to failure. I need them to overcome that paralyzing fear of failure so they approach problems with an eagerness to find solutions, be creative and innovative, seek knowledge, try again and again and again. I basically want them to learn to work hard and if they fear failure they will never give it their best.
How do students develop this fear? Who are we kidding? Our society suffers from this fear and ti holds a lot of us adults back from doing what we love and stepping out into our passions. Where does it come from? It’s as if we as kids, build these pedestals for ourselves and build them higher and higher until the ground looks so far away that it is virtually impossible to step off and fly. Yet here’s the trick, the pedestals aren’t that high. We’re not that far off the ground at all. The height is an illusion. The worst that could happen is that we step off and trip and fall flat on our face. It may hurt, there may be scars, but scars are cool and injuries heal. Most importantly, we learn from the hurt and become better.
There is a study I read about somewhere and I can’t find the article now but I use the example all the time so I’m going to use it here. There are two groups of students who are each give a test to take. The test is pretty standard for the age group and is the same for both groups. Group A is encouraged using language stressing how smart they are while Group B is encouraged based on their effort, their hard work. The tests are completed and graded and both groups score the same as any other group would for the test. The crux of the experiment comes with the second, more difficult test. Both groups are told it is a more difficult test and that it is optional. In Group A, the “smart” group, only a few choose to take the test while Group B as a whole eagerly takes on the task. Why? For Group A, being told they were smart raised their illusory pedestal and they were scared of losing that title of smartness when they failed to do well on the more difficult test. Group B wanted to keep getting praised for working hard so they jumped at the chance to work hard because they were grounded and ready to run and sure, fall a few times but then get up and keep running.
Please encourage your students to fail and create and environment where they can shout out and answer and you can say, “No, that’s wrong,” and they won’t be afraid to say something else. I had this math teacher in grade 12 who used to get this pained expression on his face when you asked him to clarify a problem. He was a good math teacher and I suspect his expression was just an unconscious reaction but it left an impression on us. Figure out ways to create a classroom environment where failure is not only an option, it’s the only option to becoming great. And maybe show them this list of famous failures as examples to follow because let’s admit, who doesn’t want to be like Mike.