A New 26: F is for Failure

          F is for Failure.  For this entry I decided to try something different.  Instead of a typical, couple of paragraphs long entry, here are a few thoughts on failure.  They mix experience and research with philosophy.  Take them for what they are:

*Failing doesn't make you a failure.  It just means you failed.  Similarly, losing doesn't make you a loser.  It just means you lost.  On the flip side, winning something doesn't suddenly mean you're a winner.  It just means you won.  Being able to detach your value as a human from the result of an experience is important.  It also can be really difficult.

*Failure is an opportunity to learn... but so is success.  I don't love the concept of, "I win or I learn."  Although I understand it and know it's not the intended purpose, I think way too often people wait for failure to reflect on process and search for answers.  The search and reflection process should be continual instead of a trigger when things go poorly.

*Failure, like success, is up to you to define.  You're the only one who can decide whether something was a failure or success.  I can't give you a list of 10 things to do if you don't want to fail.  For one, I don't know what your definition is.  Cue the Benjamin Franklin quote about there being no absolutes except death and taxes.

*We can change the perception of failure as a 4-letter-word.  "Failure isn't in my vocabulary."  Cool, but it can be.  "Failure isn't an option."  Alright, but it is a possibility.  Failure isn't some scary thing to run from.  It's a part of the journey.  At our school some teachers did a 5 Days of Failure twitter challenge back in the fall.  We didn't change the world, but it was fun to learn with each other and share our thoughts with students.

*Along those lines, those you lead look to you for how you talk about failure.  What we say matters.  So does how, when, when, and where.  Something I've been marinating on more and more though is the importance of the example we set through our actions.  I'd argue that our behavior is often a greater driver of learning for young people.  Do I say that I want students to go for it and take risks but then penalize them too harshly when it doesn't work out?  What do I do when things don't go my way?  Do I pout or look for more effective ways to respond? 

Those are just a few thoughts I have on failure.  Hopefully they challenge you to think about your own approach to failure.  Ultimately that's more important than whether we agree or disagree.  Challenging our thinking allows for growth.  Coupled with action it allows for greater potential impact for those we teach and coach.

- Coach Ehrlich


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