Failure IS an Option

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

Wednesday night is family night. Our standing date to spend time together. It’s the untouchable night. No work. No interruptions.

A couple of weeks ago, my husband decided that a game of catch was in order, since it was our first rain-free sunny summer Wednesday. And so, with miniature football in hand and triangle formation, he tossed around the old pig-skin with our dudes. (I watched from the sidelines as cheerleader and music coordinator).

If memory serves me well, this is the first time we’ve played catch with our kids. Ever. Why? Because my husband and I aren’t good at sports. We don’t have an interest in most things sporty.

Earlier in the week my 9 year old told me he wasn’t good at sports like football, soccer, and basketball. Despite my protestations he was sad about what he viewed as deficiency.

But WOW can that kid put a mean spiral on a football pass. He knew to line his fingers up with the laces on the ball and follow through with his whole body. When I asked him where he learned how to throw like that, he said, “My PE teacher.”

He had the technique down. His little brother on the other hand didn’t. He needed help. It wasn’t coming easy. What a great opportunity for peer to peer teaching.

Our oldest demonstrated and helped his brother with positioning. And, for the 7 year old it was frustrating when the ball didn’t go where he intended or as far as he wanted. There were tears at failed attempts.

On the flip side, our youngest is a great receiver. He stepped into the ball and wrapped his entire body around it to prevent dropping it.

Instinct? Innate ability? Either way, it was his strength. His big brother was afraid of the ball coming toward him, using his hands and arms to block the ball.

Again, peer teaching. Our 7 year old had the opportunity to demonstrate and instruct his frustrated older brother. There were tears at dropped balls.

For both, there were moments: throwing up of hands, stomping of feet, and blaming, “You didn’t do it right so I could catch it.” Or, “You didn’t tell me that part. That’s why I did it that way.”

There’s room for improvement, but by the end there was laughter and joy; a sense of accomplishment. Since then they’ve gone out on their own to throw the ball around.

Why am I telling you this? A sweet family outing story? No. This evening allowed us to start the dialog about failure and what it means; about starting imperfectly and growing into a skill.

I value failure for what it can teach us. (I talk about failure in writing here.) I despise failure because I wasn’t taught to embrace it. Quite the opposite, I was taught to avoid it. It is only in my adult life that I’ve come to realize the benefits.

I am aware of the need to create an environment where failing is an accepted practice, mostly because we’ve decided to homeschool and assume the full time responsibility of formally educating our boys.

My children need to know how to harness the power of making mistakes. Right now they fear being wrong and messing up. Our football night is a prime example.

Inadvertently I’ve contributed to their sense of foreboding about being anything less than perfect. I have unwittingly taught them to be critical of others shortcomings by a careless comment here and a careless statement there.

 I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.

~Michael Jordan

Now I need to unravel this thought process and reframe failure for my boys. It’s time to deliberately teach them that it’s normal and everybody does it: cool kids and geeks, the book wise and the street smart, young and old. Failure is an equal opportunity life coach.

To grow from ignorant to bad; from bad to good; from good to better; and from better to best; we have to be willing to look at where we fell short, what went wrong, label it, and then bridge the gap so we can learn and develop. That’s the beauty of failure.

 It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.

~Bill Gates

We put undue pressure on ourselves when we:

  • Fear giving the wrong answers
  • Worry about not getting it right the first time
  • Panic about trying something new

I want to normalize the process of learning from your mistakes, trial and error. We often hear this quote: “I didn’t fail the test, I just found 100 ways to do it wrong,” which is true. How in today’s world do we teach our children to leverage their failures instead of berating themselves for the one result?

I don’t know what the answer is but I know it starts with a dialog. It starts with a moment like football family night. It comes with experiential learning and allowing them to own it without shame. Diana Laufenberg said it best here. Or maybe you’ll prefer the way Ramsey Musallam said it here.

This transition from parent to teacher and care-giver to educator has me scared, I am prepared to fail some. Okay, I’m prepared to fail often.

And the best part … I am willing to be transparent in my failures so that I can model for my kids how to respond to our own limitations and push them farther out. J.K. Rowling’s 2008 Harvard Graduation address beautifully speaks to failure. And I appreciate her openness. I hope I express it to my children with similar grace and eloquence.

It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all. In which case you have failed by default.

~J.K. Rowling

Where have you failed? What have you learned?
 

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Writing: Failing Forward

“I didn’t fail the test, I just found 100 ways to do it wrong.” ~ Benjamin Franklin 

I failed to complete my writing goals for this week. They weren’t overwhelming or outside of my grasp.

I committed to my writing partner that I would:

  1. Finish a scene that is labeled Back-to-School Blues.
  2. Continue working on scenes that are labeled Counselor Visits.
  3. Jot 1500 words by doing the first two bullets.

Not one was accomplished. But it’s okay, because my failure this week gave way to success in a different area of the writing process.

“Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement.” ~ C.S. Lewis

Things are starting to fall into place. I finally know where my story begins and where it will end because I have my villain. My characters can move forward with purpose.

Knowing their purpose allowed me to do something that I haven’t been able to do since I made the decision to sit down and write. I was able to plan.

I spent my writing time this week planning out the story. For the sections I already have written, I was able to determine the order they should go. I created an outline and started moving scenes around in Scrivener. I know changes that need to happen within most of the scenes for them to connect within this order.

I was able to see what’s missing. I identified scenes that I need to write for the story to make sense and move from the beginning to the end. I can see where I’m going.

“Failure is a detour, not a dead-end street.” ~ Zig Ziglar

Isn’t that exciting? To have direction when I was wandering aimlessly before waiting for the story to start? To have answers to questions that have been with me since I started?

I am just over 30,000 words and now I feel like it will flow easily because I have a plan. A short term plan because something could happen during my next writing time that could change everything.

Or maybe I just need a plan so I can not follow it and feel like I’m breaking the rules. You never know. But I am optimistic.

“Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor.”  ~Truman Capote

I am so thankful that I failed this week. I am glad that I fell short in my writing. I have a sense of accomplishment that I wasn’t expecting. I’ve learned quite a bit about what it will take to finish this novel.

I dare you to fail forward in your writing. Know that it’s okay when things don’t go according to plan; when the plan reveals itself differently. Remember, you’ll end up exactly where you’re supposed to when you’re supposed to …

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal:  it is the courage to continue that counts.” ~ Winston Churchill

Now I am off to my accountability call to tell my writing partner the great news:  I failed!