Making Sense of Failure

Today’s daily objective, in my math classroom, was to understand how struggle makes our brains grow  (we completed Day 5 of the Week of Inspirational Math).  My students and I had a series of conversations on failure and each of them spoke to failures they had endured, that eventually resulted in successful moments after substantial effort.  One of my students talked about trying ski jumps for four straight days before he finally landed a 360 (ouch!)

I may be 32 years old (considered young to some and old to others) but I am getting to that point where I have experienced both personal and professional failures.  Many of the great failures of my life, have changed my core, uprooted my childhood beliefs and shaken my foundation.  Some of these failures seem pointless (at least for the moment). However, it is my vision, that in time, these failures will help shape a deeper understanding or create a new success.

Recently, a good friend of mine asked how I got to do some of the math consulting work I am lucky to do (currently I am a Teaching Channel Laureate, a role in which I could never of dreamed of receiving).   My friend wanted to follow in my footsteps and begin stepping into leading professional development opportunities for teachers.  Originally, I responded “luck.”  But then, I paused.

Thinking back to three years ago, (almost to the day) I was a part-time teacher, had an 11 week old baby and a 20 month old and my life was crazy!  A friend of mine called me to ask if I would apply for a stipend curriculum coordinator position at the district in which I worked. Hearing the hesitancy in my voice, she attempted to convince me to apply as she said “Crystal… if not you, who?” That improved my confidence enough that I felt the courage to apply.  

In the interview, I created a skit with hats where each hat represented a different component of who I was, sang a mathematical song and poured my passionate opinions into the answers.  Then I waited.

Two days later, I got the call that no one wants to hear, “Crystal, we loved you.  Best interview in 35 years of education.  But, we have chosen someone else.”  

My heart sank.  I have learned that no matter how old I get, rejection still hurts just as much.  As I went to thank her and hurried to hang up, the person paused and told me that they never again wanted me to lose out on an interview due to the strength of my resume.  They said they believed in me and wanted to give me different opportunities by sending me to the regional transition team for the Common Core State Standards.  I was ecstatic.

Entering that group, created a domino effect.  One opportunity after another have literally linked together since, each seeming to come based off a personal recommendation from the prior.  

As I reflected, I realized that luck had less of a role that I originally imagined.  What had got me these opportunities was to be a risk taker, to ask deep questions and to be open with others about my excitement to grow as an educator.

When the next person asks me how I got to where I am, I am going to respond with a much simpler answer… I failed, I got rejected.  

Someone once told me that life is about showing up, day after day, even when you want to quit.  As I listened to my students today, I reflected.  For all the self-doubt and criticism I give myself, I took a moment to honor that the one thing I have always done is kept showing up.  And when I showed up, I engaged with others.  Their belief in me, was often greater than my own (still is some days).  Through it all, I have come to understand that being rejected and failures just steers your energy in a different direction than you thought.  

Rejection still hurts, but, I am better able to understand how it will lead to a new opportunity.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.  So throw off the bowlines.  Sail away from the safe harbor.  Catch the trade winds in your sails.  Explore. Dream. Discover.”


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