JUNE 27, 2017
Dear members of the FFC,

Last year, during fall orientation at Smith College, and then again recently at final-exam time, students who wandered into the campus hub were faced with an unfamiliar situation: the worst failures of their peers projected onto a large screen.

“I failed my first college writing exam,” one student revealed.

“I came out to my mom, and she asked, ‘Is this until graduation?’” another said.

This was not a hazing ritual, but part of a formalized program at the women’s college in which participants more accustomed to high test scores and perhaps a varsity letter consent to having their worst setbacks put on wide display.

“It was almost jarring,” Carrie Lee Lancaster, 20, a rising junior, told me. “On our campus, everything can feel like such a competition, I think we get caught up in this idea of presenting an image of perfection. So to see these failures being talked about openly, for me I sort of felt like, ‘O.K., this is O.K., everyone struggles.’”

The presentation is part of a new initiative at Smith called “Failing Well” that aims to “destigmatize failure.” With workshops on impostor syndrome, discussions on perfectionism, as well as a campaign to remind students that 64 percent of their peers will get (gasp) a B-minus or lower, the program is part of a campus wide effort to foster student “resilience,” to use a buzzword of the moment.


Read the rest of the article in the New York Times

Some Quick Facts About Failure
  • Women Often Take Failure Personally
    We are more likely to blame ourselves for mistakes, asking what we could have done better, while men tend to blame outside forces (the job, the test material, etc).
  • Fearing of Failure Holds Us Back
    In his book, Originals, the psychologist Adam Grant notes that people who fear failure are less likely to put forward ideas, to take intellectual risks, and more likely to quit. They tend to avoid new challenges in favor of sticking to what they’re already good at. 
  • Everyone (Literally, Everyone) Screws Up
    Even Larry David, who was told by executives that the pilot episode of Seinfeld was "weak." Even Oprah, who was fired from her job as a reporter. In short: The world is full of stories about successful people who failed on their first try, tried again, then succeeded on the next
  • BUT: There's No Better Learning Than a Good Mistake
    As Rachel Simmons, the creator of the Failing Well program puts it: "There's no school, no therapy session, no amount of money that will earn you the wisdom and strength learned by an epic fail mistake."
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