I teach at an independent all-girls school that attracts the most hard working young women in the area–38 different zip codes as a matter of fact. They are driven, ambitious, and they’ve often been known as the best students in the schools they came from. They excel in academic areas, they make amazing art and music, they play sports with fiery dedication and they have big dreams for themselves. Then they come to our classes and we ask even more of them. We challenge them, we ask them to stretch themselves, we give them constructive criticism. Because they are girls, and because they are high achieving, many are prone to perfectionism. The challenges we present them sometimes overwhelm them and some start shying away from creative risk.
Our school has a really amazing confidence committee that researches and develops initiatives on campus to increase student confidence. They’ve taught the faculty that one of the qualities that can limit confidence is a fear of failure. Our students want to please us, their parents, while also meeting their own aspirations. It can be daunting and one stumble can feel like the end of the world. The pressure on students has been growing steadily and much of that pressure results in them avoiding failure at all cost.
So, when I started querying my novel this summer, I knew I was going to share my experiences. Querying a picture book last year, and now a novel, has been such a learning experience. It’s taught me so much resilience and I’ve learned to embrace failure. I have always been willing to take risks, but even this was scary at first. But I survived. And I didn’t quit. I want to show students that successful adults they respect experience failure. We don’t succeed in spite of failure, it’s because of it.
I also want to even the score a bit. Students have 6 or 7 classes each year and every day they get grades and criticism handed down to them. Their faults and weaknesses get pointed out, often in red pen, on an hourly basis. Adults have it so much easier. So, to soften the blow of grades, I have decided to make a wall of rejection. I’ve printed out my rejection letters (with names removed, of course!) and I’ve taped them up on the wall. All around the rejections, I’ve put quotes celebrating rejection and failure and inspiring perseverance. I’ve also invited seniors in to see my rejections as they wait for and receive their college decision letters.
I took some pictures on Friday to share.
Here’s to glorious failure!