When F means “Flying Colors” not “Failure”
“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan
Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm. – Winston Churchill
I’ve written about this before, but today I would like to focus more on how students are conditioned to hate the crosses on their exam papers. From a young age, the smiley faces and the golden stars and the “Excellents” are associated with full marks or something close. We learn to fear mistakes, we learn to fear failure, and as we go from one rung of the ladder to the next, we eventually reach the real world, and suddenly discover that failure is what makes us learn.
Most of the successful entrepreneurs will talk about how many businesses they failed in before they started. If you read the biographies of some bestselling authors, they talk about the number of novels that were rejected before they got a script accepted. So failure is an important step in learning, and yet schools do not tolerate it at all.
In Creating Tomorrow’s Schools, the authors cite that “a press release published in 2008 by The Chartered Institute of Educational Assessors found that in a survey of 2,000 adults, 77 per cent felt that their exam results did not reflect their true abilities and that 90 per cent of teachers do not believe that exams are the best indicator of their pupils’ abilities. I remember being told as a child that your ability to pass exams and eventually gain a degree demonstrated to future employers your ability to stick to a task, your resilience.”
People have defined success and failure in black-and-white terms; high GPA students are successful and low GPA students are not. But there are many aspects of a human being that make him successful in some things and failures in others. In engineering, there were people who were more practical than others. I remember once a lab instructor was talking about how engineers, we need to be able to look at the distance from his desk to the door and be able to estimate in our heads how many meters those are. You’ll be shocked to discover how some people memorize one formula after another, but when the pipes leak under the sink, they have no clue what to do.
Then there are people who do a better job at the field under stress. Others perform better in exams under stress. Some make the mistake of assuming that just because a person can perform better in exams under stress then they can work in the field under stress. However, the two situations are totally different. In one, the mistake could lead to a paper filled with red crosses, while the other could end up with a building collapsing and people dying. So yeah, the stakes are higher, and the stress gets redefined.
That’s why I like how companies nowadays don’t just look at CV’s but have all sorts of personality tests, and assessment days where they simulate the work environment for the candidate to study soft skills like his presentation skills, ability to stay cool under pressure, and other character traits necessary for the job.
That means that students need to relax a bit and not obsess over their GPA’s. It’s true that grades are important as they take the student up the academic ladder, and some companies do the initial screening of people based on their GPA’s, but students need to understand that they are not their GPA’s. I might have quoted this before but as my advisor at AUS used to say, “I don’t grade you as a person, but I grade the paper you gave me.”
In other words, one failed experience shouldn’t put a hole in their self-esteem, and their motivation levels. Failures should be seen as temporary obstacles that need to be overcome, not as a dead-end in itself. I agree with what the authors in “Creating Tomorrow’s Schools” say about how you learn nothing new from getting everything right, and that you only learn when you make a mistake.
Mistakes help you create a different approach towards solving a certain problem, and as Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10000 ways that won’t work.” Also another interesting quote by him is, “Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.”
It’s interesting to note that people are becoming increasingly aware about the benefits of failure that there’s actually a conference called “FailCon” in the US, where technology entrepreneurs, investors and designers come together to talk openly about their failures and prepare for success.
So to make failure a success you need to do the following:
1) Accept the failure as a temporary setback. You can rephrase the word “failure” in your mind by saying, “I didn’t fail, I’m just preparing for success.”
2) Learn from the failed experience. a failure is a true failure only if you haven’t received any lesson from it.
3) Move on to the next approach you can take towards your goal. Adjusting your approach is important as Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.
4) Don’t quit. Keep on persevering until you make it bi ithn Allah.
Finally, I close with an interesting idea where one of the authors of the book say that if they find out that their child keeps on getting 100 %, then they ask the teacher how to change things in order to challenge the kid more. The idea is that getting mistakes are the main way to understand that the child is being challenged enough, that he’s moving out of his comfort zone and that his true potential is being tested.