What a depressing title for a blog post! No one wants to hear about failure. No one likes to feel small, ignorant and stupid.
It is undeniable, however, that everyone makes mistakes at some point in their lives. Everyone experiences moments of failure. So then, bear with me and let’s just for a minute forget that this is too often a taboo subject. Let’s do something daring: let’s shine a light on mistakes.
Earlier this year, Twitter saw a trend in sharing of “failures”. We saw JK Rowling sharing her rejection letters and also heard the news that a Princeton Professor published a resume with a difference: it listed all his failures, all the jobs he didn’t get, all his funding applications that were rejected.
So what prompted this somewhat unusual step of sharing failures with millions of people?
JK Rowling stated that she posted her rejection letters “by popular request” and “for inspiration, not revenge.” Professor Johannes Haushofer published his CV to “in an attempt to balance the record and encourage others to keep trying in the face of disappointment.”
It seems that many are currently in need of encouragement to keep going in the face of failure. The pressures on young people in our society seem to be growing. This has recently been an issue in my household, with my children, and I have been forced to look again at how I as a parent can frame failure and mistakes.
It is so easy to be blinded by perceived failure, to get so caught up in what we are doing wrong that it colors our view of our whole selves.
But if we do that, aren’t we missing something vital, something potentially life-changing?
At LogicPrep, an important part of our process is to track our students’ mistakes. How depressing, I hear you say. To see all your mistakes, to be constantly reminded of all the things you have got wrong.
But no! For LogicPrep students, their mistakes are the key to their success! Yes, you read that right, and this is what is potentially life-changing: mistakes really can be the key to success.
At LogicPrep, we believe this so completely that our proprietary software is based around this principle. Using our web app, we can create customized question sets for our students based on their past mistakes. By practising the concepts they have struggled with in the past, by meticulously going over all their mistakes, they increase their chances of answering those types of questions correctly in the real test.
When thinking about the best way to view mistakes, I was reminded of a book I recently read by Benjamin Zander and Rosamund Stone: The Art of Possibility. Benjamin Zander is the conductor of the world famous Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra and has highly interesting and unusual approach to teaching music, including giving all his students an A grade at the beginning of the year. In this book, Zander talks in detail about how he needed to encourage those in his orchestra to take risks, but that often they were focused on the fear of making a mistake, and this would be so paralyzing that it was impossible for them to be creative in their musical expression. He says: “I actively train my students that when they make a mistake, they are to lift their arms in the air, smile, and say, “How fascinating!” I recommend everyone try this.”
So this is what we have started at home: when we make a mistake, we smile, lift up our hands and say “How fascinating!”. Invariably everyone laughs because it looks quite funny and so the mood lightens. The act of lifting one’s hands reminds me of a shrug, we are literally shrugging off the feeling of failure. The smiling and laughter turn the situation around, it’s no longer something depressing and worrying. Finally, the recognition of the mistake provides us with the possibility of learning from it.
And therein lies the power of recognizing your mistakes – when you do, they become an opportunity to grow. As LogicPrep’s students discover, mistakes are your friends, they show you what to focus on, they are the opportunity to do better in the next test. They are like a light pointing you in the right direction. Mistakes actually contribute to who we are and who we can become. Let’s throw our arms up and embrace them.