I just kicked off a unit titled Striving for Success that begins with students responding to quotes about success and failure; one of the following was an option for them:
The real test is not whether you avoid this failure, because you won’t. It’s whether you let it harden or shame you into inaction, or whether you learn from it; whether you choose to persevere.
— Barack Obama
No matter how many inspirational quotes you read about how necessary failure is in order to achieve success, , though, that doesn’t change the fact that failure sucks.
Nobody gets up in the morning and says, I cannot wait to fail today!
Yet, that neither gets to the point of either of those quotes nor provides the proper context of failure. People desire immediate gratification. I see it in my students who do not want to edit their work, thinking that the production of one very rough draft means the work is done. Taking constructive criticism and making improvements based on it hurts. We do not receive the immediate praise we think we deserve on a piece we put effort into; then, we’re expected to somehow find the motivation to do better?
That’s an arduous process that takes time; besides, engaging in the process might not even yield the results we want in the end – so why bother? Through this lens, I understand why some would rather do nothing and guarantee failure instead of trying and failing. If you don’t try, you can always fall back on that as the reason you did not succeed. It’s devastating to do what you think is your best and still not quite achieve the result you want – whether that be acceptance into a program, a good grade on an exam, or, in my case, publishing a novel.
I spent so much time convincing myself that I had taken constructive criticism and edited Knowing When You’re Too Young to Grow Up properly that I never acknowledged the real issues – inconsistent character development, unclear conflict, and some glaring plot holes. Rejection after rejection came as I kept falling for the same pitfalls that have riddled me for the past few years. And I quit on it for a while even if I wouldn’t admit it to myself because I felt like a failure, and ultimately I was afraid to do what was necessary to start fixing the problem. I’ve come to see that if fear is dictating, then the results will not be there. Why? Because you’re more worried about not screwing something up than improving it.
From my Knowing When experience, I think I’ve learned more about myself as a writer, a learner, and as a human overall. In failing so pathetically and having to own ALL of the why and the how, I’ve taken a long look at myself across all facets of my life. Does that mean I wanted to feel all the heartache of inadequacy and self-doubt? Absolutely not – I don’t think anyone says, “I’m going to suck today!”
Yet, in recognizing that screwing up today sets you up for less screwing up in the future, we have a blueprint for success.
Success, according to Merriam-Webster, is defined as “favorable or desired outcome.” For some, success is earning a certain amount of money or getting a particular job or reaching a personal goal. For others, it’s raising a family or being charitable or just making the world a better place. Everyone has a different motivation and a different reason for having that motivation; the goal is figuring out what that desire is and doing your very best to achieve it.
If I could save my students from the corrosive pain of failure that eats away at your belief in yourself, I would. However, life is a long-term play with as many downs as ups. Perseverance and resiliency are not only what define us, but they distinguish us from others. How we confront, overcome, and grow from challenges determines how successful we will be.
Own your failures and hurt in the interim, but don’t let them become you; just figure out how to be better because of them.
As Sir Winston Churchill once said,
“Success is not final; failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.”