ASCD, Failure, Resilience, Whole Child

I Hate(d) Failure.

For most of my 36 years, my personal mantra has been “Failure is not an option.”

Seven months ago, I made a public pledge to blog at least twice a month.  I may as well have also labeled it “My New Year’s Resolution” because I have not written a post after that, despite it being received relatively well.

Over the past few months, I made fun pacts with fellow ASCD Emerging Leaders (specifically Barry Saide, Eric Bernstein) about how I would follow their blogging lead, writing amazingly interesting blogs that reference cool ‘80s movies and inspire educators to work wonders in their classrooms.  I also made excuses for why I never quite got around to writing (doctoral classes, family commitments, travel, conferences, sleep…).

Honestly, I didn’t write because I was afraid that my thoughts would be considered un-engaging, un-informative, or worse, poorly written.  (Read: NOT GOOD ENOUGH.)

In my effort to avoid feeling like a failure, I failed.

As an educational consultant who focuses on social emotional learning, I am privileged to work with teachers and students in states across the country.  In this role, I often encourage – no, I intentionally PROMOTE – failure. I believe whole-heartedly in giving others a 2nd, 3rd, even 4th chance.  I urge teachers to incorporate formative assessment into their classrooms and offer students “second chance learning” on summative evaluations. I persuade students to forgive themselves, back up, redirect their paths, and move forward again with confidence based on new learning.  Why can’t I seem to give myself those same opportunities?

Failure helps us grow character, build resilience, and increase knowledge and expertise. Failure lets us know who is standing by our side.  Failure stretches us in ways we never thought we’d experience.  Failure directs us to success.

Since everyone defines “success” differently, failure can always lead us to success. It is all in how we frame it.

Prior to starting my doctoral program, I set a goal to achieve a 4.0 GPA.  Near the end of my first 9-credit semester, I earned my first “B” on a paper.  For some, this may not seem like a big deal.  For me, the knot of failure sat in my stomach for days.  I tried to ignore it, overcome it, and push it away.

Finally, I decided to embrace “it”.

I embraced failure.

I reframed my thinking. Realizing that I no longer had to (was able to) achieve my goal, I could actually enjoy my journey of learning – relish all the new insights my professors and classmates offered.  I was now open to truly grow as an educator, as a learner, and as an individual. I was stretched, and I bounced back. And truly, I am much better for it.

As a consultant, you build quick relationships with those with whom you work.  One of my mentors, Thom Stecher, once told me that in order to build my consulting skills, I needed to find MY stories – and allow myself to be vulnerable enough to share them.

I think this might be a good place to start.  From failure.

(And Barry and Eric, lest you think that have failed to tie a movie to this post: The 1993 movie, Cool Runnings, tells the inspiring story of Jamaica’s first bobsled team trying to make it into the Olympics.  At different stages of their lives, the bobsled teammates, and their coach, experienced intense periods of failure.  But, they embraced it, learned from it, and found success. As one of the main characters states in the movie, “Cool Runnings means ‘Peace Be The Journey.’”

May we all find peace on our own journey through embracing our failures and remaining confident that we will eventually meet success.

2 thoughts on “I Hate(d) Failure.”

  1. Thanks for sharing one of YOUR stories, Krista! I still believe we must change that mantra of “failure is not an option” to “failure is not an endpoint.” Your story illustrates that point beautifully. We will ALL fail, thus failure is not only an option, it is all but a certainty. It is where we go from our failures that really matter.

    There is another scene in Cool Runnings that relates to @klrundell’s post. The late, great John Candy as bobsled coach Irv explains how failure is often modified by the way we define success. Krista changed her definition of success in her doctoral program from a 4.0 to a rich learning experience. Here’s Irv sharing wisdom with his Jamaican bobsled team:

    Irv: Derice, a gold medal is a wonderful thing. But if you’re not enough without one, you’ll never be enough with one.
    [Turns to leave]
    Derice Bannock: Hey coach, how will I know if I’m enough?
    Irv: When you cross that finish line tomorrow, you’ll know.

    When you defend that dissertation, Krista, you’ll know!


  2. I find some advice someone once gave me is relevant to your post… striving for perfection will cause heartache and failure, striving for excellence will produce a feeling of pride and improve our accomplishments.


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