Make your own mistakes. Yeah, right. Parents, teachers, and coaches have drilled this idea into our heads over and over again. But in practice, it’s more easily said than done.
It is hard to make your own mistakes when you’ve got someone analyzing everything you do. Not just one person, either. College admissions, teachers, tiger parents.
We all feel them watching over our shoulders. So every grade just has to be excellent, and there’s no room for even the tiniest misstep.
Maybe that’s Palo Alto, or maybe that’s the way it works around the US. Regardless, it’s not going to help students in the future.
Companies are looking for new employees who are able to learn from their failure, rather than let failure set them back.
Paly students fear failure and what it means for our futures, so we bend over backwards to avoid it. We are stuck in what is commonly known as a fixed mindset. We fear making mistakes, and often are unable to grow as a result.
“Competition is so fierce at Paly… because of our school’s reputation,” junior Cathy Rong said. “Paly makes it seem like each student has to be known for something, whether it’s academics, sports, or theatrical talent.”
It is easy to see why everyone is so adverse to failure. A failed test could result in a lower grade, and a social mistake could result in drama.
This negative attitude towards even the slightest failure is not going to help us in the long run.
“I think that without having the full range of experience from success to failure, students can not really experience the entire range of behaviors that we have to exhibit when certain situations confront us,” history teacher David Rapaport said.
Just look at historical figures and the beginning of many companies. Franklin Delano Roosevelt lost a vice presidential election before he became one of the most respected presidents in US history.
Steve Jobs had to leave Apple before he could return and rise with it to success.
As Bill Gates once put it, “It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.”
Our anti-failure culture must change, and bend to suit the way students learn the best. If we are always “successful” in school, we might get the grades we want, but we won’t learn how to deal with difficult situations.
Failure allows us to develop a variety of different skills, including quick thinking, flexibility, perseverance and many more skills that will prove invaluable when we are given the opportunity to leave our mark on the world.
Without real world experiences and these important abilities, we won’t be prepared to face the job market that revolves around entrepreneurs with such qualities.
It’s common for an unsatisfactory grade or a missed soccer goal to be discouraging. But what’s important is not the mistake, or even the grade. It’s what you learn from it, and how you recover.
If you do badly on one math test, but realize how best to study and work hard, you are sure to improve on the next one. And the next one after that, if you keep up the effort.
“Why I do horribly on a test, it motivates me even more to do better on the next one, so I can catch up effectively,” Rong said.
It’s important to realize that one tiny failure is not, in fact, the end of the world.
A bad grade on one test won’t change which colleges you get into, and getting an answer wrong in class doesn’t mean you’re stupid. It means you’re learning. Isn’t that what we’re at school to do?
“Do I want students to be taught how to fail? No. I want students to learn from bad experience so a) they won’t repeat it b) they’ll avoid it or c) they’ll learn a technique to extract the most from the experience,” Rapaport said. “All it takes is once.”