Robbing Children of the Right to Fail

Many of us are well aware that we learn more from failure than success. Frustrating though they are, our failures force us to look back, tweak our efforts, and strive for better outcomes in the future. As Thomas Edison famously stated – 

“I failed my way to success.”

The tragedies of the school admissions scandal include the loss incurred by those who weren’t admitted, the corruption (perhaps in some cases unknowingly) of those who were unfairly accepted, and also the unveiling of a philosophy, so rampant in our society, that if you don’t excel you aren’t even in the game. This perfectionistic, “A vs. F” living, takes all the joy out of doing our best, bettering our best and enjoying the journey, wherever it leads.

As a Columbia university trained psychotherapist and an MBA (NYU’s Stern School of Business) I highly value learning. When I “failed” at my first attempt to enroll at Columbia I felt crushed. But then I asked myself “What would I need to do to get in?”

Joining the staff of Lenox Hill Hospital’s Department of Community Relations, I worked for over a year, collaborating with rehab centers throughout the city, developing informational exhibits in the hospital, and generally promoting community health. I redoubled my efforts to do the best I could on my second set of admissions essays and was pleased that my efforts paid off. There was a true sense of accomplishment. Had I not been accepted, however, I’m sure I would have sought my training elsewhere.

Likewise with my efforts on my book, which was recently released after more than a decade of “shopping” it, after which I finally found fine agents  (Janet Rosen and Sheree Bykofsky) and a respected publisher. Prior to signing me Sheree had rejected me at least once and I can’t even count the number of times I’d been rejected by other agents and editors!

Why did I keep trying? A belief in my work, as well as the words of a wonderful writer and man, John Searles, were key. Speaking to a massive assembly of aspiring authors in Manhattan, he said, “I got  enough rejections on my first novel to wallpaper my bathroom, but fortunately it was a small bathroom!” The room exploded in laughter and we all left feeling reassured and revitalized. For many of us I’m sure our further revisions resulted in better writing and better work.

I’ve been blessed with a precious legacy – the love of learning. My very last memories of my mom are of an older woman with a bun on her head, waiting for me in front of a Westchester Library, with a stack of books reaching up to her chin – and a grin. She had to leave high school to help support her family, but she adored her job at a law firm, delighting in the erudition  around her as she devoured the definitions of the new and intriguing words that she  typed.

This is how we learn to love learning. So much is lost when only winning is the goal. Let’s use this scandal to rediscover what really counts.