This edition of EDLAB’s Student-Meet was a smaller, intimate gathering suitable for exploring the at times personal topic of learning from failure. Guided by UCM student counselor and PhD candidate Laura Smeets, participants of the workshop were encouraged to confront their subconscious beliefs surrounding failure and reframe failing as an opportunity for growth and we’ve got the five most important lessons learnt that night for you right here.
The first important lesson that Laura wanted participants to remember is that making mistakes is human. To emphasize this, we did a “never have I ever”: She read out common failures and ask participants to stand up in case this had ever happened to them. Most of the time everyone would be standing, yet to see that others would also frequently fail seemed to help students understand on a deeper level that making mistakes is truly just a part of the human experience.
The second important lesson that Laura emphasized was that failure is integral to the learning process on the path to success. For this, she quotes Albert Einstein who remarked that “a person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.” Failure can help us to get exceptionally good at something as it gives us feedback as to where our knowledge and skills still need improvement. Furthermore, many mistakes have led to some amazing inventions in science such as Penicillin or the Post-it Note.
The third important lesson that we learnt that night was to understand that success is not a linear process. Laura used a variety of illustrations to make the point that the road to success looks more like a convoluted mess. Participants discussed the different twists and turns it may take to get to success. Or as another illustration put it, what is all beneath the tip of the iceberg of success such as disappointment, failure and continued persistence in the face of it.
The fourth important lesson encouraged participants to understand and reframe their beliefs around failure. Our culture primes us to see failure as an embarrassment and detrimental to our success. While many of us may cognitively disagree with this, emotionally it can be hard to allow ourselves to fail without judgment. Laura made participants reformulate popularly-held negative beliefs on failure, into statements that assert its necessity for growth. With this, she also introduced the notion of the growth mindset: the attitude that talents can be developed through hard work, mistakes and feedback.
The fifth and final lesson focused on teaching participants the ingredients for the optimal learning environment: high psychological safety and high performance standards. This blend allows individuals to delve into the learning process without fearing mistakes while at the same time ensuring motivation and drive by setting certain standards. Important to note is that this optimal learning environment can be both internal, the approach you yourself hold to learning, as well as external such as the atmosphere in your tutorial group. Laura reminded participants that they can also contribute to the optimal learning environment in a tutorial by for example admitting things they did not understand and hence, normalizing mistakes and imperfections.
The Student-Meet under Laura’s lead created an atmosphere where participants slowly become more comfortable with the notion of failure. Students ended up sharing their own personal short-comings with the group, normalizing the prospect of failure in the process and making everyone present more at ease with their own anecdotes of mistakes. That night, we all took a first crucial step towards the growth mindset and finally embracing the importance of failure.