I tell my students that failure is worthwhile. It is good to make mistakes. I tell them this because I believe the willingness to take risks creates a more meaningful learning environment. Mistakes teach us things. We aren’t invincible. We also aren’t defeated. Growth is an important part of life, and the best kinds of failure lead to growth.
I suck at kickball. My feet smell like a recently emptied garbage can that has been sitting in the sun, and maybe just a little bit like chlorine, which doesn’t make any sense. Rock-em Sock-em robots play beach volleyball better than I do. My bedroom floor and I are engaged in a constant game of hide-and-seek; I play seeker. I tend to spontaneously forget that objects exist. My socks desert me at every turn; I suspect they chose mutiny the minute they were introduced to my feet. I can be messy, disorganized, absentminded, uncoordinated, distractable, and imprecise.
And I’m a raging perfectionist.
I’ve addressed this perfectionism in previous posts, but most recently, I’ve realized something. While I’m very comfortable with what I would consider my major flaws, I have trouble coming to terms with failure in areas where I expect success.
I eat fruit gushers for breakfast. I frequently spill mac and cheese in the teacher’s lounge. I’m going to experience agony worthy of a Greek tragedy when I attempt to run an adventure race this weekend. But those flaws are CUTE. They make me ADORKABLE and ENDEARING.
I refuse to forgive myself, however, when I’m not a perfect teacher, when I don’t grade things in the amount of time it takes professional chess players to make a move, when I can’t make somebody laugh, when I can’t participate in an intelligent conversation about this morning’s headline.
Fifty percent of the time, I hold myself to impossible standards, and I chastise my students when they behave in the same manner.
I am a dingus.
I need to flex my failure muscles, to take risks and be willing to fall flat. I need to love myself for making mistakes, except when those mistakes involve me sending a late post to dear Abby Zwart, whom I don’t deserve (and yes, Abby, please do keep that in the final draft. The world needs to know).
I think the willingness to make mistakes is a flavor of vulnerability I’m ready to try. My writer’s block often stems from my perfectionism. I send out late posts because I don’t want anyone to read any writing that is below the standard I set for myself. But here it is, an exercise in practicing failure, a raw lump of piecemeal mental matter. Take it as you will.
Lauren (Boersma) Harris (’13) is a spontaneous, idealistic, independent, fierce, over-thinking, damaged, adventurous, ordinary megalomaniac with a healthy sense of self-worth and a high word count. She has been a teacher both indoors and outdoors; she loves improvised comedy, backpacking, and writing, even when it’s required.