Imagine a group of kids in a math or programming class at their school. A kid raises her hand and says “Teacher, my program isn’t working. I’m stuck.” What if the teacher’s response was “Great! That means we get to go on a debugging adventure.” Another kid raises his hand and says “I made a mistake. I can’t figure out the answer.” The teacher responds with “Yay!! That means you’re pushing past your limits and really learning.”
What if we told ourselves those words every time we feel we fail at something? What if we celebrate that and are excited about the opportunity to push beyond our failure and know that means we’re learning? Because that means we’re doing something hard. Something worthwhile.
I envision classes filled with these types of responses. I want to see online tutorials with pop ups that say “That’s not the right answer. Cool. That means we get to go on a learning journey. Let’s iterate.” What if our focus was purely on joy of the learning process, not the outcome? What if we introduce narrative to failure, meaning that we think of failure as opening a door, a process, an ongoing opportunity to retrace our steps and get at the crux of the problem. A bug in code becomes a treasure. Debugging a treasure hunt. We are the characters on a quest to find our mistakes, to make them precise and explicit. Because that gives us the opportunity to stretch ourselves, to engage in critical reflection, to grow. It also gives us the ability to develop mental fortitude, internal strength. We would practice the art of iteration, the art of self-improvement. What if that process becomes something that makes us come alive? And if continually making mistakes and failing becomes a way of life?
I want to celebrate failure. And celebrate the failures of others. Because that means we’re stretching ourselves, developing mental fortitude, invited to be creative and truly alive.