| Angie Counios
The Dalai Lama says in his book How to Practice The Way to a Meaningful Life:
Analyze. Think, think, think. When you do, you will recognize that our ordinary way of life is almost meaningless. Do not be discouraged. It would be very foolish to give up now. On those occasions when you feel most hopeless you must make a powerful effort. We are so accustomed to faulty states of mind that it is difficult to change with just a little practice. Just a drop of something weak cannot change a taste that is powerfully bitter. We must persist in the face of failure.
After reading this passage I had two very clear thoughts.
First, I thought, "Whoa…everything I read connects to what I am trying to do."
Second, "Keep going, Angie Counios!"
At the end of my Semester One of teaching for this year, a young girl asked me for help to get her art credit. During her time of homework catch-up, she asked about tenacity: “Ms. Counios, have you failed at anything?”
The question caught me off-guard and I busted out a "Ha!" in one big exhaled breath.
“Oh girl. My expertise in failure started a long time ago. I failed at math and physics and chemistry in high school. I failed at public speaking and touching my toes. (I was fat and shy.) I failed at University my first year. I failed at relationships and finances. Oh, and let’s not count all the ugly art I made that should be put in a fire. I’m super-duper good at failing.”
I announced all of this with a sort of pride. The girl looked at me astonished. She didn’t believe me.
“What? You don’t believe me?” She shook her head. “How am I supposed to get good at something if I’m already good at it?”
She gave a thoughtful "Hmm..."
I continued, “The cool thing about failing is that if you’ve landed on your face once or twice, you know without a shadow of a doubt that you can get back up. So if you feel like you’ve failed at something—awesome. It’s like a protective shield. Eventually there will be things you do that you won’t be scared of.”
Even the most botched art project has lessons in it and the struggle offers far more lessons than achieving the goal easily. I challenge students to consider what has come from what they created besides just the work of art—whether ugly or beautiful. Is it personal success, risk taking, or the courage to make it and put it out there?
I keep two articles close by to remind me that success comes from failure. The first is in The New York Times Sept 14, 2011, from the writer Paul Tough (what an awesome and appropriate last name): "What if the Secret to Success is Failure?" The second is from Jessica Lahey in The Atlantic January 29, 2013: "Why Parents Need to Let Their Children Fail."
And Austin Kleon (hello again) says:
Amateurs are not afraid to make mistakes or look ridiculous in public. They’re in love so they don’t hesitate to do work that others think of as silly or just plain stupid.
Kleon also quotes Clay Shirky from his book Cognitive Surplus: “The stupidest possible creative act is still a creative act”
Kleon says, “forget about being an expert or a professional, and wear your amateurism (your heart, your love) on your sleeve. Share what you love and the people who love the same things will find you."
I just posted an image on Facebook of two women dancing together. The caption said “your vibe attracts your tribe.” So very true.
I want people who are fearless, who aren’t scared to fall down or to help me up. I want to keep going even when it’s tough or when I want to be lazy.
So Your Holiness, Mr. Kleon, Mr. Tough, Ms. Lahey, Mr. Shirky, and that girl in my Art 10 class, thanks for the reminder that persistence, hope, and failure are necessary and excellent teachers!
As long as I do my best, I should not be afraid of it.