Sunday, May 14, 2017

Why Failing Forward is Just Fine

On this Lag B'Omer (the only #BlogBOmer piece I've done since last year), I've been doing a lot of thinking about my past, my present, and my future.

For someone lacking a sense of direction, clear signs are a must.

It's possible that this is in the forefront of my mind as our students are approaching finals, approaching graduation, approaching new jobs, life decisions, destinations--that we are often raised to believe that failure isn't a positive. When you see a red "F" on a transcript, your eyes might water. With every job rejection, you might shake, afraid of what's next. With any action you take, there's an element of risk--and that risk equally includes failure. 

Before I even got to college, I was a maven at making mistakes, a first place finisher at failing forward. Kicked out of camp at twelve, struggling with weight and relationships and self-esteem through high school, aiming to find my place in the world through stubborn viewpoints, harmless (?) flirtations, and countless wrong steps. My father, in his wisdom of knowing my lack of direction awaited the day when I would call him up and say "Dad, I'm lost! Help me." "Where are you?" "I don't know...didn't you hear me say I was lost?"

This is...relatively accurate. If I knew how to read a map. Should learn that skill.

I have countless "Dad" stories; parables of Jewish proportions of my having done something wrong (or perceived as wrong) and in a moment of conversation with my father, he says exactly the meaningful phrase that helps propel me to the next risk, action, or turn. When in college, I had found that despite my wish to help heal the children of the world through pediatrics, I lacked the capacity to handle math and science, I called my father crying. "I can't do this. It's impossible."

My father, to his credit, was patient (to my credit, he never wanted me to be premed in the first place). He said to me, "Amanda Katherine, you can practice your whole life to run a mile in a minute. Every day you can run a little faster, make your time a little better. But you, you are never going to run a mile in a minute. There are just some things that you can't do. This is just one thing that you can't do. It's all right." I graduated college with a 2.76 GPA, double majoring in Psychology and Judaic Studies, two fields which have done wonders for me in the work I do today.

Post-graduation, I failed. I lost jobs, lost money, lost my sanity in attempting to keep myself moving forward. With each job rejection, fight with my boyfriend at the time, decision poorly made, I kept learning. Attempt to make the right choices, not the easy ones. You can speak your mind while hearing out someone else. Try something, you might like it and see where it goes. It's okay to take the risk. I got accepted into graduate programs, took on leadership roles, found my voice in whispers, questions, and then as time continued, one strong statement at a time.  I continued to fail forward. I continued to learn from every error and aimed to help those going through similar paths learn from my mistakes as they made their own. 

Once hired, don't you worry...I continued to fail forward. I was lucky to have mentors and advocate both local and abroad--to have opportunities and trust and feedback and any number of students, staff, board members, faculty, and friends to let me know when I shouldn't have made that joke, taken that chance, or made that decision. I failed forward for four years and learned every day that this was in fact the best way to fail, to make a mistake, learn from it, move a few steps forward and put my hands out again in the chance of grabbing something great. In doing that, I was given new adventures, relationships, friendships, and a lifetime of memories fitting into the span of an election cycle. When I left Oregon for my newest adventure, I was ready for more failures--and for more friendships, family, and fun. 

My first decision out of Oregon was to go cross-country with the Dad and
this best friend (the Doof) who is all about failing, falling, and flopping forward.

We talk a lot in my field about how engagement is about meeting people where they are. What happens when where YOU are is in a constant state of motion, taking tentative steps towards an undisclosed location? You take the risk that you might fall. If you're lucky, you have a safety net. If not, you have the options to make sure the ground isn't too hard when you hit it and bring some extra padding for the next time. But in failing, you have learned something that you can't learn from constant bouts of success--you learn that everything worth having takes extraordinary effort. You learn that you are NOT alone. 

On a day that celebrates humility squared (thanks Kabbalists!) on a day that's supposed to be a celebration, this 33rd day of the Omer (Lag B'Omer), I can't say that I am not humbled by the many poor choices that I have made throughout my life. But I am also so proud of the many times that I've failed--because without them, I would never have ended up here. Failure may not be flattering (thanks New Found Glory!), but failing forward is just fine. 

Happy Lag B'Omer to all my friendly forward-facing failings out there!

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