Will Ferrell's speech at USC graduation went viral a couple weeks ago. Besides being funny, he stresses the importance of making mistakes and not giving up. I also came across an article in the New York Times about Smith College and a class it started offering, Failure 101. At Smith they are actively encouraging students to fail well. In some ways, it sounds a bit trite. "Yes, the way we learn is from failing. The only bad mistake is one you don't learn from." But I'm not sure most of us deep down believe that maxim. We probably subscribe to something more along the lines of: "I'm going to do everything I can to avoid failure including not aiming too high for fear that I'll be setting myself up for failure. I'll reach a bit but only if it's something I have a good chance of achieving. Also, if I'm not doing as well as I would like, I'll lower my goal to something more achievable." I know I'm guilty of such thinking at times.
To actually embrace failure takes more than simply repeating the maxim. It's almost as though we have to seek significant challenge that almost promises some failure. A couple things could happen. One, we fall short of our overall goal but still accomplish some worthwhile ones in the process. Two, because of having pushed ourselves, we pick up new skills along the way. Three, our worst fears are realized, and we suffer a significant setback. This last result even brings positives since, in the vast majority of cases, we'll come back from the setback knowing we can survive even the worst of outcomes.