Never Quit Failing: How to Enjoy Failure (And Grow Past It)

I spent last week at band camp.

In other words, I spent seven consecutive days working with high school musicians and colorguard members on movement, music, dance, drill and all things related to marching band success.

It was one of the most productive band camps I’ve ever worked, but that also made it one of the most exhausting band camps I’ve ever worked.

Be Careful What You Wish For

For years, I’ve said my fondest wish was to work with a group who pushed me to get better. Who exhausted my usual lesson plans. Who sent me home thinking “Crap, I’d better step up my game.”

This year, I got that group.

I went into this band camp with my usual lesson plan for beginning of the year movement for colorguards. I planned to spend a lot of time breaking down jazz walks, building up dance fundamentals, and so on. If we were lucky, I thought, we’d make it to jazz runs by the end of the week.

We made it to jazz runs by the end of the second hour.

I went home on Tuesday realizing that I’d better brush the dust off some of my decidedly non-beginner repertoire, because these kids were bound and determined not to be beginners for any longer than they could help.

The One Who Can Do Everything

Halfway through Wednesday, one of my students asked, “How are you so smart?”

I paused, flabbergasted.

“How do you know all this stuff?” she clarified.

“Well, for one thing, I’ve been doing it for years,” I said. (I did not clarify that, in fact, I’ve been dancing and spinning since before any of my students were born – although I have).

“But,” I continued, “I think if I have a superpower, it’s that I’m always failing at something.”

Always Fail At Something

Allow me to clarify: I’m not always failing at something so much as I’m continually working to get better at something.

Perpetually failing at things is easy. For instance, I am perpetually failing at skydiving (never tried it), lassoing a calf (tried it only once), and bowling (try it once every decade or so).

There are lots of ways to be in a state of ongoing, static failure, and most of us spend our lives in a failure relationship with most human activities. It’s inevitable. No one can be good at literally everything.

What’s harder is to deliberately choose one of those failure points and say, “I’m going to do this until I don’t suck at it anymore.” And then to do that again. And again. And again.

What’s even harder is to make that choice for no reason other than that you’ve decided you’re going to get good at something new.

For instance: Recently, I took up contact juggling. I did so because a Twitter friend said they had taken up contact juggling “because the failure rate for beginners is 100 percent.”

That’s exactly the kind of thing that grabs my attention. A failure rate of 100 percent, you say? Bring it on.

I’m not sure whether this particular character trait is a blessing or a curse. I do know I’d hate my life without it. Seeking out things that are hard to do and doing them until I can do them well is one of my primary joys in life. It helps me maintain a growth mindset, which in turn helps my students grow.

It also makes me kinda badass at parties.

If I have a superpower, it’s that willingness to keep failing until I stop failing. And if I have a motto, it’s this:

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