If It Looks Like You’re Failing…You’re Actually Learning

If you become frustrated when learning a new skill or studying a new area, take a moment and recall what it was like riding a bicycle2when you were learning to play a sport for the first time or what it was like when you were learning to ride your bicycle for the first time.  As you are recalling this experience consider this thought:

Before you had balance things were very wobbly, that you fell many, many times, but eventually you got balance on the bike and in order to get that balance you had to get on the bike again and again and again. When learning to play baseball, for example, there were times when maybe you got “beaned” on the head, slide into a base and got a scraped knee, get dirty and muddy, got sun in your eyes, dropped the ball, the other team got a run, some time the game was canceled but you came back to another game the next day.  Sometimes the team may win yet it may also tie or loose.  Learning and outcomes are uncertain… the only certainty is that we stay the in the game.  That’s how we learn.

Consider this thought as well:  Edison went through 1,900 possible filaments–1,900!!–before he found the one that was the perfect one to conduct electricity for the light bulb.  An amazing act of perseverance–1,899 failures!!  learning to walk2Yet, it seems to be the nature of our thinking that failure is to be avoided because we can give it such negative connotations (e.g., this should have been avoided, there is something wrong with me, or this must mean I’m stupid).  One failure, one tumble, one slip, one mistake and more often than not we are likely to stop exploring or doing what we would love to do because we might feel too silly or too embarrassed or too upset with ourselves.  Good thing we didn’t have those kinds of thoughts as infants when we were learning to roll over.  After one attempt we would have said, “Forget it, I can’t do it.”  Good thing when we were learning to walk that  after just one tumble we didn’t quite and say “I can’t do it, I’ll just stick to crawling.”

So, consider this thought:  failure is not good, it is not bad, it is not right, it is not wrong.  It is information, it is an indicator telling us we do not yet have what we want, we have not yet brought to fruition what we are creating.  Seeing that, keeping our judgments at bay as best we can, we can then explore this gap.  Edison might surely have asked himself, “What is it about this particular filament that isn’t working?  The length, the width? the particular metal?” etc.  Inherent in each of us is the drive the propels us forward–as infants to sit up, pull ourselves up, hold on, step out, wobble, fall, do it again and again–and again–until we, with utter amazement and joy, master standing, then walking, then running, then hopping and skipping and then riding a bicycle.  And each becomes so automatic we have to take a moment and remember: before we mastered any of these amazing skills, we failed and failed and failed, but we did not lose our determination, our perseverance, our tenacity.  It is the poet Maya  Angelou who said, “It is not that I have confidence, but I believe if I fail, so what?  Now I have the chance to try again.”   Indeed, she also wrote, “Courage allows the successful person to fail…and to learn powerful lessons form the failure–so that in the end, it was not a failure at all.”

So, you see, when you are failing…you are really learning.  Be bold, dare to risk, take heart.

This entry was posted on Sunday, August 23rd, 2009 at 9:11 am and is filed under Life Lessons. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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