Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Failure Is Only In Our Minds

This summer, we've had the wee ones doing pages of their workbooks most days for several reasons. This year is the first year that both the wee ones will have nightly homework, and they need to learn how to sit down and get thing done. Plus, Little Miss's school has a huge event when school returns for those students who read and did a certain level of math over the summer.

There's another reason, though.

I was one of those kids who found everything academically came easy for me. I rarely studied because it just came to me when I needed it. My study habits were atrocious. It wasn't until I went to college and was slapped in the face with real work that I realized how much of an issue this was. That first quarter my freshman year when I pulled three Cs and an A-? Yeah. That was the end of my dream of being a psychiatrist. Actually, that dream ended eight weeks into my freshman year when I approached my advisor and told him I wanted out of my program. I was giving up guaranteed acceptance to NU's med school and a three year undergrad requirement because I already knew it wasn't for me.

Could it have been for me? Maybe if I'd learned how to work earlier. If I'd figured out how to study and grasp the knowledge at the level I needed at Northwestern. There was something else holding me back even more than my lack of study skills.

I had never failed. If I tried it, it worked. And really, that's not nearly so awesome as it sounds because no one can go through life never failing. I was thisclose to never applying for AP History in ninth grade because oh my gosh what if I wrote my three paragraph essay and then I wasn't selected for the program? I thank my lucky stars every day that a friend pushed me to apply because she was. I was selected, fortunately, and those classes were the most valuable one I took in high school.

When it came to college, I had my first taste of failure - ummm those Cs, remember? - and I freaked. I was too afraid to keep trying because I simply couldn't handle my version of failure. Instead, I just didn't try. That A- was in macroeconomics, so my major naturally turned to economics because obviously that was easier. I was all set to add poly science as another major, but those classes got too hard and it didn't come naturally, so ... I didn't try. I didn't join the equestrian team at Northwestern because I didn't think I was good enough and was afraid I'd fail. The team folded after my freshman year, and I've regretted it since. I never rushed because I was afraid I wouldn't be chosen. While that wasn't my worst decision ever, how much of a better choice would it have been had I made an informed choice based on whether I liked the sororities or not?

That mentality has taken years to get over. And there are times when I still am paralyzed and unable to do something because I don't want to fail. I'll simply procrastinate then cram at the last minute so that if I do fail, I can blame a lack of time rather than a lack of ability. Fortunately, that very rarely happens anymore, and I recognize when it does so that I can generally avoid it.

I don't want the wee ones to live life this way. I want them to struggle now and know how it feels to overcome it. I want them to know that hard work brings an awesome feeling of triumph, and I want them to cherish that feeling. I want them to learn now that failing is only in their minds. They may not do something the way they want to do it now, but that's not the end of the story. There's always an opportunity to do something different tomorrow. I only wish I'd learned that lesson as a child.

And I do see it sinking in. I see Little Miss tell me that she'll never figure something out, despair evident in her voice. I work with her, leading her down the path to figuring out the answer on her own. And when she does? Oh the joy on her face, the happiness as she practically leaps around the room dancing that she figured it out all by herself.

I figure there's no greater legacy I can give the wee ones than a sense of confidence in themselves, knowing that failure is only a moment in time and that their hard work can bring them to amazing places. And so we open up the workbook again today and do some pages, hoping that they will take this lesson with them forever.

In the interest of full disclosure, this post was inspired by "In Stitches" by Anthony Youn, M.D. It is this month's book selection for the From Left To Write book club, where we write posts inspired by the books we read rather than reviews. I was provided with a copy of this book for review purposes, but I received no compensation. As always, all opinions expressed are my own.

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Hyacynth August 11, 2011 at 11:22 PM  

Mmm, yes. And sometimes that failure actually turns into something great ... something I didn't learn until I was an adult either. Here's to the kiddos learning it a little earlier.

septembermom August 13, 2011 at 11:15 AM  

This statement of yours will stay for me - I will make sure of it.

"I figure there's no greater legacy I can give the wee ones than a sense of confidence in themselves, knowing that failure is only a moment in time and that their hard work can bring them to amazing places."

Thank you Michelle for this honest and inspiring post.

Pat August 13, 2011 at 2:12 PM  

Way to go, Michelle! I really like the way you encourage your kids to not give up but to keep trying even if it's hard. I tended to avoid anything that might end in failure (and getting a C, to me, was failure). I always liked math and science, but when I got a few low scores on quizzes in Physics my senior year of HS, I dropped it. Finally in adulthood I learned to stretch myself, especially in public speaking, though I still don't like to do that!

Heather August 15, 2011 at 5:57 AM  

I really admire the way you are teaching your kids about the awful lesson of failure now. Too often in todays society, there is no "failure" for kids & without failure, there wouldn't be really awesome successes!

Michelle August 15, 2011 at 10:57 PM  

Hy - I can only hope they learn it earlier. It's such a valuable lesson, and one I still need to focus on, too.

Kelly - Aww thank you. That really means a lot to me.

Pat - Oh we're making them keep trying and then focusing on how it feels when they accomplish something. So far, it's not sticking though.... and YES I'm with you on that C!

Heather - No kidding. If they don't learn how to handle it, how will they ever learn to be happy as adults?

tiarastantrums February 10, 2012 at 8:22 PM  

or there is the complete opposite spectrum - like me, as a child - where I would just rush into EVERYTHING - not thinking about the results or caring what happened. Just get in there and get it done. Not a good thing either!

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