A few weeks ago I was talking with some homeschooling moms (friends of mine), and I mentioned that I was a big advocate of failure. I realized when I said it that not everyone agrees with me. Since then the idea has been floating around in my head, and I felt the need to pen it down.
I realize that the idea of praising failure sounds very anti-Charlotte Mason like, but as a woman who worked as a Chemical Engineer for a while, and as a woman who is trying to start her own business, I have had to learn the importance of failure.
To give you a little background information, I was raised by a single mom, and she always encouraged excellence. Somehow along the way, I began to equate excellence with perfection.
Throughout public school and college, I worked very, very hard to be a straight A student. Most of the time I succeeded, even in my engineering classes. But when I went to work in a male dominated field, I realized my approach was not setting me up to succeed.
One day, while my father-in-law, an engineer also, was visiting, the conversation of failure came up. And for the first time in my life someone told me that if I wasn’t failing, I wasn’t trying. He then proceeded to tell me a story of how he had messed up so badly at his job that he had accidentally shut down the entire facility at which he worked. (He was an electrical engineer.) At the time, I didn’t think I wanted to be that committed to failure and didn’t take his comment to heart, but I tucked it away in my memory.
Fast forward 15 years, I was talking to a local businessman, trying to pick his brain for information that I could use to help me in my curriculum publishing business. Of all the things he told me, he pointed out time and time again that if I wasn’t making mistakes, I wasn’t trying.
Immediately I flashed back to that conversation fifteen years ago with my father-in-law. And I thought to myself, that idea sounds very anti-the Charlotte Mason method. (I realize that Charlotte Mason was not advocating true perfection but excellence; however, the word perfect carries so much weight that using it can paralyze someone with perfectionist tendencies.)
After much reflection, I think I agree with them. True perfection is an illusion and is unattainable. More important than being perfect is trying because in the process of trying and making mistakes, real learning occurs.