Ok, so, honestly? That title is aspirational. I’m really not someone who runs out into the street, arms stretched wide, yelling, “C’mon, failure! Just try to knock me over!”
But last night, while I was attending the Chattanooga Women’s Leadership Initiative IMPACT dinner with colleagues from Chattanooga State, the BBC’s Katty Kay said, “Robots are perfect. Unfortunately, humans make mistakes.” Cue the applause.
I sat in my uncomfortable convention center chair and thought, “Unfortunately? Hmmmmm. Is it, though?”
Oh, sure. Failure is SO. NOT. FUN. In truth, it sucks. It destabilizes everything in its wake, leaving us to try to figure out what the hell just happened.
On my podcast, I talk about failure a lot … both times I (and others) have failed, or the way that fear of failing prevents us from taking leaps, from answering the things our hearts and souls yearn to do, from truly LIVING our lives.
As so many people who study learning tell us, though, failure isn’t just an unfortunate aspect of life; it’s actually one of the most profound and important ways we learn. Think about it: If you walked into every class you’ve ever taken, sat down, and took every quiz, wrote every paper, and participated in every class discussion without EVER making a mistake, misspeaking, or otherwise failing … what would you have learned?
When I turned 14 and was legally able to take the test for my learner’s permit, I turned up at the local DMV office to get the booklet to study… and then barely cracked the cover. A few days later, I went in, took the written test (having barely studied), and got a 65%. That was a “failure,” in that you needed at least a 70% to get your permit. Was I distraught? Honestly, not that much. I had had no idea how to study for the test (and there were no practice tests), so that first attempt had just be a scouting mission. I went home, studied in the way I now knew the test required, and passed on my second attempt.
Two years later, when it was time to take my driving test, I also failed on my first attempt. It was the first time I’d ever had to back out of a parking spot with a car adjacent to mine, and I had never had to back out a little bit before cutting the wheel. That mistake was the result of careful, mindful driving practice — stay away from other vehicles! — that netted me a lack of awareness of busier parking lots. I came back soon, took my second crack at the driving test, and passed with ease.
Failure isn’t just an unfortunate aspect of our humanity; it’s what makes us better people.