“Failure is the opportunity to begin again, only this time more wisely.” – Henry Ford
Sometime after the season’s first snow I find myself longing for a project involving soft yarn and a crochet needle. Every winter I dust off those needles, flip through the dog-eared copy of Stitch ‘N Bitch Crochet: The Happy Hooker, and embark on a new journey.
My beautiful Christmas tree looks rather sad to me sitting on an old towel. True, the towel is red, but it still seems like a lackluster and disappointing ending to what I think is a beautiful tree. And so I decided to crochet a tree skirt. I haven’t the first clue about how to do this. I’ve crocheted a few hats for the kids and knit a million scarves. Once I crocheted some pretend cookware for my kids’ kitchen, a stuffed octopus, a bumblebee. But never a tree skirt. I need to be able to work in small doses so I decided I would be more successful working in hexagons. Bit by bit. Hexagon by hexagon.
As I stumble through the first few stitches I feel frustrated and a little dumb. There is no rhythm to my stitch and I am often confused. I can not see the bigger picture or recognize the stitch as I come around, but I keep going anyway. I get through the first hexagon and the just rip out the whole thing without any frustration because as I reached the end I could see places where I was creating the design intended and almost found a beat to the rhythm of the stitch and so I wanted to try it again. Moving forward wisely this time. By the time I finished my first hexagon I had started it over 3 times. And it was still not quite how I wanted, but then I realized I had 20+ more to make and there was plenty of time to make mistakes. Plus, a tree skirt stitched together one hexagon at a time will tell a better story if there are imperfections. Too tight here. A little loosey goosey there. Stressed, calm. It’s all in there.
Big Brother watches my progress. He’s floored by my willingness to rip it all out and start again. Lately, I have watched him struggle with failure. Sometimes when he’s working on something, if it is not just so it can throw him into a spiral of I can’ts and I give ups. Whenever the subject comes up, I never miss a chance to encourage him to fail. Failure can be life’s greatest teacher. I talk to him about how almost anything can be achieved with practice and the willingness to fail. Over and over and over. Each time reinventing yourself, starting fresher and wiser. Make mistakes. Learn. Move on. There’s a poem (There’s A Hole In My Sidewalk: Autobiography In Five Short Chapters by Portia Nelson) I use to turn to when I was learning to overcome some emotional ruts in my 20s that I think can also apply to learning how to move on through failure. Along the way you have to work to make the next step a better than the last.
This year Christmas came with some highs and lows. Big Brother has been begging for a means to build his own robot for many months now. Originally we thought we would go the Lego route, but upon further investigation we felt he was a little too young for the Lego robotics kit and decided to try for a different robot building kit. After much anticipation, when Christmas morning arrived and after all the wrapping paper and bows had settled from being ripped and tossed into the air, we settled into build. Hours and hours later, we were finally finished but much to our dismay, many of the gears weren’t lining up, wheels wouldn’t turn and the claw could not in fact capture anything. This left one overwhelmed, frustrated, and exhausted little boy. Total failure. He turned into a puddle of tears followed by anger and demanded to be left alone. My heart broke to see him so deflated. But after he recovered we hashed out a new plan and decided to begin again the next day. I told him that his feelings of anger and frustration were more than valid, but what mattered to me most was that he not give up. As long as you are willing to feel the hurt and then move past it to try again, then all would be well. I reminded him that failure is simple a stepping stone to doing something great. Failures are an important part of the learning process.
The other day as I was driving home I heard an interview on NPR with the woman who invented Spanx (that’s right, Spanx. Cool fact: she is the youngest self-made female billionaire in our country). She talked about how her dad expected her to fail on a regular basis.
“The gift he was giving me is that failure is (when you are) not trying versus the outcome. It’s really allowed me to be much freer in trying things and spreading my wings in life.”
I am attempting to teach my kids to not fear a fail, while also encouraging myself to heed my own advice. It’s difficult because often times a failure will shut them down. They can get so discouraged and are inclined to give up. But at the end of the day, I want to know that we tried something, regardless of the outcome and not afraid of mistakes. So rather than brush failures under the rug we congratulate them. Applaud it. Celebrate the try. And then we move on wiser and better than before.