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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What I Learned at Jot

© 2013 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2013 the Jotter’s Joint

I believe it’s important to continue to grow personally and learn new things, despite being a creature of habit. There’s a saying:  Knowledge is Power. Maybe you’ve heard it before. Anyway, this is the reason I encourage all writers to attend a writing conference.

This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend a local event … one night only … four short hours … with writing time built in. JOT:  the GR writers mini-conference.

It was a great event. I dare say special. And what made it extra special, is my hubby went with me and we made a date night of it.

The most valuable lesson I learned at JOT wasn’t a specific bullet point from a specific presentation. It was the entirety of the experience. The most valuable lesson was steeped in reflection. Like hot water is to a tea bag, JOT was to my writer’s mind. Extracting the full flavor.

It finally occurred to me … What I’d failed to recognize before was suddenly clear. And I smiled to myself as I sat soaking up everything this event had to offer, sipping coffee with my notebook open, and my husband sitting next to me. Ahhh … the moment of enlightenment.

You’re wondering what I learned and why I was smiling?

I realized that I couldn’t appreciate the message of each presenter or the questions of each writer without having already failed at their writing advice.

Huh? Yes, there is something to be said for the try, fail, and adjust process.

Let me explain …

One presenter said, “Write your first draft as quickly as possible,” which is great advice.

The reason? Your writer’s voice changes over time. Each book or article you read or write; each day that passes and experiences lived cause you to evolve.

So the quicker you put all the words for your novel down the better it is for keeping a consistent voice and minimize some editing as a result. Makes sense.

But as someone who is well into her second year of a first draft (writing in the gaps of life), I can totally see it. When I read the earliest parts of my manuscript I can recall what I was reading and see how it influenced my output.

Do you see? I wouldn’t  have been able to wrap my mind around this concept if I weren’t living the failure of it already.

Another presenter talked briefly about platform. That all important word that strikes fear and stress into writers. Because we have to figure out how to use social media to gain a following of engaged readers.

He said, “The number one reason books are turned down [for publication] is lack of platform.” He defined platform as the ability to promote your story.

I understand how important platform is. Still I struggle with it. I worry, wonder, and doubt what I should or should not share. Is it worthy or value added?

And even though I’ve garnered around 200 followers between my blog and twitter account, I dare say only a handful are “engaged”. If I weren’t in the process of building my own platform this advice wouldn’t resonate with me.

Trying and failing is a remarkable teacher. If we adjust our actions based on where we fell short and what we were trying to achieve we stand to accomplish something great.

So don’t be afraid to jump in and just start.

Now you may think I’ve contradicted myself … I still advocate for attending writers’ conferences and applying practical knowledge gained.

Just remember there is plenty of advice out there on writing. Some of it is Best Practice and shouldn’t be ignored, but it doesn’t mean all of it will work for you.

I’ve learned a lot about my writing process just by trying. And I’ve learned a number of things by following the advice of others.

I appreciated my experience at JOT for the epiphany and because they delivered exactly what they promised:  Meet. Learn. Write. Looking forward to the next JOT.

What life event led to your most recent “aha moment”? Do you learn best by doing or from instruction? Feel free to leave me a comment. I’d love to hear your story.