Over my 24 years of teaching in elementary school there have been thousands of lessons I have delivered. There have been thousands of lessons I have received back from my students too. The ones that stand out the most are the ones that I like to categorize as “leadership” lessons. But there is one leadership lesson that I have been preaching the past few years that may rise above all with regard to preparing my students for future success. Fail harder!
Our society puts too much value on perfection – from looks to performance to even more. Most people direct much of their focus on the end result. They see an athlete performing and don’t take time to consider the hard work and thousands of hours of practice spent preparing for that one shining moment. Most people see an accountant run numbers and devise a sophisticated plan, but they don’t consider the years of mathematical study that went into being able to crunch the numbers. Whether it is an elite athlete or a master mathematician, people who excel at their craft have spent thousands of hours failing – and even failing harder.
Our society needs to realize the fact that we all have to be willing to embrace making mistakes, because we learn from mistakes. And we really need to embrace making mistakes when we challenge ourselves – failing harder. I have seen it too often – an athlete or a student practicing something they are already good at, but unwilling to take risks for fear of failure. By challenging ourselves, we are providing ourselves with the real opportunities to excel and elevate our abilities. Thomas Edison spoke to this with his famous line: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” But Edison didn’t quit!!
Basketball great Michael Jordan said this: “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
As teachers (and this is important because this is most often where the problem sprouts from – as parents too) we have to explore with students and our next generation the idea of failure being a part of the process it takes to excel. As a society we have to value the process of imperfection that it takes to ultimately succeed.
I have been teaching my students to take risks and embrace failure; this way they can study it and learn from it. I have been preaching to them that this is their time to make mistakes and learn from them. I have been showing them videos that try to convey this message. We have been analyzing quotes that echo this message. We have been studying the “Michael Jordan’s” and “Thomas Edison’s”. I have even referenced Malcolm Gladwell’s discussion of the 10,000 hour rule from his best-selling book Outliers – it states that it takes someone this many hours of practice to master something at an elite level.
So…the most important lesson that I have tried to imprint upon my students’ hearts and minds is that they have to learn to take the long way, which is so often the right way. I hope that it has resonated with them: “Fail harder now, so I can succeed easier later.”