Perseverance – Become Great at Failing

“And why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.”

– Thomas Wayne, Batman Begins

This is absolutely the number one attribute I look for in my students. Furthermore, it is the first thing I work on with my student to improve. Of learning new things this much is true: you will fail! And then you’ll fail again, then again then a few times more. …And after a few more falls we begin to get it, and then, after some time, we finally become masters at out art. Failure is part of learning. The two are quite literally inseparable. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is, by many learned reckonings, the greatest musical genius ever to have walked the earth; however, do you know how Mozart’s piano sounded the first day he began to learn? It sounded aweful! Mohammed Ali’s first punch was feeble and William Shakespeare’s first scrawl was virtually illegible. What made these great men great was that they stuck through many thousands more failed attempts until their work became awe-inspiring.

If learning, then, is to fail, to be good learners we must become excellent at failing. Or, to put it another way, we must learn deal with failure like champions. The fastest way I know to become good at perseverance is to fundamentally rebrand failure. Instead of thinking of the ‘wrong’ answers as some sort of mis-validation of your intelligence, instead see them as an essential and important step to learning. The more mistakes we make, the quicker we can become accomplished at a skill, so we must learn to love our mistakes. Schools, interestingly, do this the other way around; they reward correct answers and punish too many mistakes, and so ironically smother out children’s natural predisposition to learn new things. So sad.  

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