The Dalai Lama says, in his book How to Practice The Way to a Meaningful Life:
Analyze. Think, think, think. When you do, you will recognize that our ordinary way of life is almost meaningless. Do not be discouraged. It would be very foolish to give up now. On those occasions when you feel most hopeless you must make a powerful effort. We are so accustomed to faulty states of mind that it is difficult to change with just a little practice. Just a drop of something weak cannot change a taste that is powerfully bitter. We must persist in the face of failure.
After reading this passage I had two very clear thoughts. First, I thought, “Whoa…everything I read connects to what I am trying to do.” Second, “Keep going, Angie Counios!”
Questions that should be answered
At the end of the teaching period a young girl asked me for help completing assignments that got away from her so that she could get her art credit. During her time of homework catch-up, she asked me a question that surprised me. I answered honestly.
“Ms. Counios have you failed at anything?” I was caught off-guard and I busted out a “Ha!” in one big exhaled breath. “Oh girl. My expertise in failure started a long time ago. Let me tell you. I failed at math and physics and chemistry in high school. I failed at public speaking and touching my toes. (I was fat and shy.) I failed at University my first year. I failed at relationships—that one I was particularly good at failing—and I failed at responsible finances. Oh, and let’s not count all the ugly art I made that should be put in a fire. I’m super-duper good at failing.” I announced all of this with a sort of pride. The girl looked at me astonished. She didn’t believe me.
No, for real!
“What? You don’t believe me?” She shook her head.
“How am I supposed to get good at something if I’m already good at it?” She gave a thoughtful shrug. I continued, “The cool thing about failing is that if you’ve landed on your face once or twice, you know without a shadow of a doubt that you can get back up. So if you feel like you’ve failed at something—awesome. It’s like a protective shield—even a super power, really. Eventually there will be things you do that you won’t be scared of. And things you do that you’ll do just to try without caring about the outcome.”
Even the most botched art project has lessons in it and the struggle offers far more lessons than achieving a goal easily. I challenge students to consider what has come from what they created besides just the work of art—whether it is ugly or beautiful. What’s the additional learning—the side dish? Is it personal success, risk taking, or the courage to make it and put it out there?
I keep two articles close by to remind me that success comes from failure. The first is in The New York Times, Sept 14, 2011, from the writer Paul Tough (what an awesome and appropriate surname): ” What if the Secret to Success is Failure? ”
The second is from Jessica Lahey in The Atlantic, January 29, 2013: ” Why Parents Need to Let Their Children Fail.” Can we actually say that a little slower and louder for the parents in the back? Thanks.
And Austin Kleon (hello again) says: Amateurs are not afraid to make mistakes or look ridiculous in public. They’re in love so they don’t hesitate to do work that others think of as silly or just plain stupid. Kleon also quotes Clay Shirky from his book Cognitive Surplus: “The stupidest possible creative act is still a creative act” Kleon says, “forget about being an expert or a professional, and wear your amateurism (your heart, your love) on your sleeve. Share what you love and the people who love the same things will find you.”
By sharing what I love I have people around me who are fearless, who aren’t scared to fall down or to help me up. I want to keep going even when it’s tough or when I want to be lazy. And hopefully I will keep attracting those folks who live in the same way. So Your Holiness, Mr. Kleon, Mr. Tough, Ms. Lahey, Mr. Shirky, and that girl in my Art 10 class, thanks for the reminder that persistence, hope, and failure are necessary and excellent teachers!
As long as I do my best, and even if I fail, I should not be afraid.
*originally posted April 4, 2015