The first academic term of the year has passed quickly. The end of first term is an appropriate time to review progress made by students. At this time, it is common for students, parents and teachers to reflect on what has occurred during the first term and to identify anything that needs to change in order for success to be achieved in the terms ahead. Reflection may highlight successes and satisfactions, but there may also be disappointments and regrets. Failure to meet expectations – whether one’s own, those set by others or specific academic standards – can result in a sense of failure, inner turmoil and conflict with others.
Failure serves a purpose and is essential for achieving success. This is a confronting statement, but there is an important caveat: failure by itself does not guarantee success; achievement depends upon how we respond to failure. Failure allows us to find out what we need to learn, how to develop essential skills, to grow and to ultimately achieve success. Harvard University Lecturer and Psychologist, Tal Ben-Shahar says we must “Learn to fail, or fail to learn”.
Most people are familiar with the stories about Thomas Edison who repeatedly failed when working on his inventions. When questioned about his failures, he reframed the experience as a learning opportunity and replied “I have not failed. I’ve just found ten thousand ways that won’t work.” Michael Jordan, the famous basketball player and Abraham Lincoln, the revered US President are just two who experienced repeated failures before achieving outstanding successes.
A defining feature in the lives of exceptional people is that they reflect upon their failures, identify what went wrong, learn from their mistakes and implement changes that will increase the likelihood of success in the future. They learn from their apparent failures. At each step along the way, they identify patterns or behaviours that can be changed to move them towards their goal. They are not overwhelmed or discouraged by failure but recognise it as a critical turning point to shape the future. Successful people understand that failure is a part of life and that this experience provides a valuable opportunity for learning.
As students move through their education, it is normal to encounter greater intellectual and academic challenges. Patterns of behaviour that served well at one time may not be sufficient to achieve the same level of academic success that was enjoyed previously. Failure in any area can help to speed up the process by focusing attention on the changes that are required. Behavioural changes; increased focus in class; gaining greater understanding; giving attention to detail; skill development or more effort may be required. It is important to identify what specific changes that are needed. Failing forward is using the experience of failure to guide us towards a more positive future.
© Michele Juratowitch