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Lenten Lights X ~ Learning from Failure 

Imagination Sculpture

I don’t know much about failure as a student. I came wired for academic success and achievement. I also came wired with tremendous shame about failures of any kind. No one ever really showed me how to learn through trying and failing. As a young student, I spent unbelievable amounts of energy avoiding and hiding my failure rather than embracing it as a path to more learning.

From grade school and high school to college and graduate schools, my learning was also fueled by curiosity and persistence, but always with limits on how much perceived ‘failure’ I could tolerate. I pushed myself, and critiqued myself harshly to avoid public humiliation.

Last week I read The Rise by Sarah Lewis, cover to cover. I learned about many things including FailCon, a conference devoted to learning from failure. In January at the Sundance Film Festival, Lewis hosted a panel of artists, researchers and activists talking about the power failure in creation, learning and mastery.  On the panel, Dave Eggers says you need both an inner editor-critic and inner optimist-idiot to keep moving forward, learn from your failures, and create something new.

Educator Deborah Kerdeman writes about how to make use of a skills and knowledge for the sake of learning complex tasks. She says that learning requires an ability and willingness to be “pulled up short” emphasizing “not proficiency and power, but proclivity for self-questioning and doubt.”*

How would your life be different if instead of causing shame or humiliation, your failures were an opportunity to be ‘pulled up short,’ to learn through questions and doubt, to make something new?

  • Deborah Kerdeman, “Self-Understanding as a Focus of Teaching and Learning,” in Education and Practice: Upholding the Integrity of Teaching and Learning, Eds. Dunne & Hogan (London: Blackwell, 2004), 144.

1 thought on “Lent XXIV”

  1. This reminds me of a line in the Prayer for Young Persons in the Book of Common Prayer:
    God our Father, you see your children growing up in an
    unsteady and confusing world: Show them that your ways
    give more life than the ways of the world, and that following
    you is better than chasing after selfish goals. Help them to
    take failure, not as a measure of their worth, but as a chance
    for a new start. Give them strength to hold their faith in you,
    and to keep alive their joy in your creation; through Jesus
    Christ our Lord. Amen.

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