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Reflection: The Necessity of Failure

Are you afraid of failure?

I am. At times, terrified.

Have you ever felt like a failure?

Countless times. More than I’d like to admit.

Do we talk enough about failure?

Probably not.

That last question is a tricky one. There isn’t a lack of literature about failure, especially when it comes to organizational failure, performance analysis, process improvement and case analysis.

What is more needed in educational contexts, especially in highly selective higher education environments like PENN, is open discourse about failure. I once heard about a college professor who kept a copy of her curriculum vitae along with a comparatively voluminous 3-ring binder of her failures. Another college professor posted all of his rejection letters along his office walls for plain view. In both instances, the professors intentionally revealed and shared their academic and professional vulnerabilities, inviting conversation with students about success that did not preclude, but preempted failure.

Failure can be predictable or unpredictable, but often unavoidable. 

Failure can be policy-centric, process-centric, technical, relational or communal, but always feels personal.

Failure can occur in the context of uniformity, inadvertent oversight, contention, change and complexity: Context Matters. 

In order to nourish that which can only be seeded, sprouted, grown and blossomed through failure, focus on the specific type of support that you need in each step of the failure-to-success process:

a confidant? a shoulder to cry on? an empath?

a relative? a friend? a colleague? a neighbor?  

a devil’s advocate?

an accountability partner? a supervisor? a guide? a counselor? a therapist?

how about a failure mentor?

Know that you’re thoroughly equipped with all of the personal, academic and professional attributes, wisdom and discernment, to design and navigate through your failure to growth pathways. Be good to yourself. Embrace failures, like successes, as stepping stones to your journey.

At Weingarten, we are committed to supporting you through all of your academic successes, failures and things in between that come to mark and shape your wonderful, authentic and humane self.

By Staff Writer: Min Derry, Learning Fellow

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