Failing Forward

Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, has a piece in this week’s Wall Street Journal in which he suggests that “B students” should receive a different sort of education than their all-As counterparts. Namely, one that will be useful, like entrepreneurship. In it he talks about the process of failing.

How to Get a Real Education: Fail Forward. If you’re taking risks, and you probably should, you can find yourself failing 90% of the time. The trick is to get paid while you’re doing the failing and to use the experience to gain skills that will be useful later. I failed at my first career in banking. I failed at my second career with the phone company. But you’d be surprised at how many of the skills I learned in those careers can be applied to almost any field, including cartooning. Students should be taught that failure is a process, not an obstacle.

This is by no means a new idea, yet we still fail to teach students that not only will they fail and fail often, but that failures are often much more valuable than successes in what you learn and how you grow.

Being in the midst of failing at my intended career of being a religion professor I am learning how all the skills I learned in the classroom (on both sides of the desk) for all those years are not only transferable, but in fact uniquely qualify me to do certain things. My analytical and verbal and written communication skills, for example, are much more developed and honed as a result of my spending the last 7 years earning an undergraduate degree and two graduate degrees (I’m also a bit of an over-achiever, apparently).

The lesson is simple. We all fail. I have failed at numerous things and am in the midst of failing again. Often times our failure is no fault of our own, but that isn’t important.

How we handle the failure, though, is important. We learn, adapt, and move on stronger and smarter than before.

So take chances, live life, and fail a little. You’ll be a better person for it.

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One thought on “Failing Forward

  1. I am an over-achieving type A obsessive compulsive crazy person. I tend to succeed as a result, and when I don’t succeed…well, I don’t take it well. I am trying to learn the art of failing gracefully. I think failing gracefully is an important skill. It’s one I don’t have. I have to work not to become embittered and downright mean when I fail. I’m a work in progress. I guess everyone else is too.

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